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Lawyers ask Mass. sheriffs to quarantine staff attending weekend rallies

Defense attorneys have asked sheriffs in four counties to quarantine staff attending a planned political rally so they don’t inadvertently infect inmates

Jackson Cote

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. — Due to ongoing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, multiple Western Massachusetts defense attorneys are urging area sheriffs not to let jail guards attend a Northampton rally in favor of Republican President Donald Trump and then go to work after the event.

The request was made after “Correctional Officers for Trump 2020” appeared as a listed contact for the rally, called “Trump Standout & China Virus Liberation Celebration.” The event is one of dozens happening across the U.S. this week in support of Trump’s reelection and the reopening of the country amid the COVID-19 public health crisis.

The Northampton event is scheduled to happen Saturday afternoon near the Calvin Coolidge Bridge and Damon Road. The event’s website urges attendees to bring “banners, flags, signs and MAGA apparel.”

“Remember to show your love for all our Police and 1st Responders. We are not ANTIFA or BLM agitators. We are Patriots!,” the site says.

In a letter sent to the four sheriffs in Western Massachusetts, six lawyers in the Northampton area urged the law enforcement officials ensure nobody who attends the event is then allowed to work without first being quarantined for an appropriate amount of time.

“Since the purpose of this rally is explicitly to support relaxation of social restrictions, we believe it is your responsibility to ensure that none of your correctional staff will be attending this rally, and then reporting for duty at your jail,” the attorneys’ letter said.

The lawyers’ concerns come as worries mount for many incarcerated individuals in the state and the country because of the pandemic. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled last month that pretrial inmates who have not been charged with violent crimes can be released amid the outbreak.

A 41-year-old inmate at the Middleton House of Correction died Wednesday from virus, and as of Wednesday, more than 250 state prisoners have tested positive for the disease, Commonwealth Magazine reported.

Since April 10, four staff members and 20 inmates at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. All the incarcerated individuals have recovered from the infection, according to a statement from Hampshire Sheriff Patrick J. Cahillane.

“So far, our staff have worked tirelessly to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and we will continue to do our jobs to keep all of Hampshire County safe,” Cahillane said.

The Northampton lawyers - David Hoose, Luke Ryan, Marissa Elkins, Paul Rudof and Rachel Webber - claimed that if correction officers attend events like rallies and then report for duty, they endanger both inmates and other jail staff members.

The Hampden County Sheriff’s Department declined to comment on the letter, but officials noted that if employees are found out to have been in a situation that put them at risk of contracting the virus, they will be asked not to come in for their shifts.

The sheriff’s website also says the department is screening all employees before they enter facilities during every shift, and if anyone shows symptoms potentially linked to COVID-19, they will be sent home.

The Berkshire and Franklin sheriffs’ offices did not immediately comment on the letter.

“Each of the undersigned has worked very hard, at times in cooperation with you and your staffs, to make sure that jail populations are reduced, and that both inmates and staff remain safe from further spread of the COVID-19 virus,” the attorneys wrote.

People have been holding protests in recent weeks urging officials to lift social distancing guidelines amid the outbreak due to economic concerns. However, many experts have argued doing away with restrictions too early may lead to a jump in coronavirus cases and deaths.