Massive prison COVID quarantine slows wheels of justice in Fresno County

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) — The omicron wave of COVID-19 throws a wrench into the wheels of justice, causing serious problems in the Fresno County Jail and in court.

Very little is being done at the Fresno County Courthouse this week.

Some lawyers are calling in sick. Some important witnesses do not appear.

“Two of the officers are on leave due to illness,” defender Stephanie Negin justified the postponement of a preliminary hearing in court on Thursday.

Some defendants are not allowed in.

“He has symptoms,” defense attorney Greg Gross said of a defendant who was due to be sentenced Thursday. “His brother-in-law, who he lives with, was tested and he has tested positive.”

Five court sources, which receive data each day, tell Action News that of 2,412 inmates at the Fresno County Jail, only 902 are not in quarantine.

About 64% of the district’s inmates are unable to appear in court.

“When omicron goes through the prison like that, there’s simply no way to get the inmates across,” said defense attorney Gerald Schwab.

The sheriff’s office does not release inmate COVID data, but public information officer Tony Botti acknowledged that “correctional officers working in our prison have caused the largest number of recent absences due to COVID.”

He said the county’s implementation of a five-day quarantine period instead of 10 days has helped them run prisons more efficiently.

But lawyers say the justice system cannot be efficient when so many inmates are unavailable.

“You can’t do anything substantial in a case while someone is on lockdown,” Schwab said. “You can just postpone the case, proceed with time waivers, but you can’t schedule a trial or pretrial or postpone cases. This just causes a little extra congestion and frustration in the court.”

Judges have even had to send some juries home mid-trial due to quarantines.

This is exactly what happened in the case of double murder defendant Cruz Hinojosa.

After nearly two months in the process and less than a week to go, the case had to be adjourned last week for its exposure in prison.

Hinojosa is scheduled to be released from quarantine on Monday, and his trial will then resume provided everyone else tests negative.

Copyright © 2022 KFSN-TV. All rights reserved.

Comments are closed.