A former Lake County Jail inmate tested positive for COVID-19 just two days after his release on April 13. A female inmate recently remanded to the jail received a positive COVID-19 test result on Tuesday. Now, a current inmate said he thinks the jail still is not doing enough to keep its population safe.
Kimble Menard, 29, has been an inmate of the Lake County Jail since Dec. 13.
When asked how he has been feeling, Menard said “vulnerable.”
“I don’t know how to really explain it other than we’re stuck here, we can’t go nowhere and we can’t defend ourselves against this [virus],” he said. “We’re just like ... helpless.”
Antonio Ellis, 28, is a resident of Des Plaines and was an inmate of the Lake County Jail from Feb. 27 to April 13.
Ellis said he remembers first hearing about COVID-19.
“[At the jail,] there’s a bunch of TVs, so, like of course, we were up to date on everything that was happening,” he said.
His symptoms started on April 8 with a massive headache and feelings of dizziness and fatigue, Ellis said.
He asked a correctional officer to get a nurse, who gave him some Tylenol and told him to lie down for awhile. When he woke up later that day, Ellis said he was covered in sweat.
“Lake County Jail did not take it seriously at all,” he said.
At that time, the jail’s medical providers were visiting Ellis’ deck two to three times a day to take inmates’ temperatures, he said. Ellis had a fever of 101.3 degrees, but he was not tested for COVID-19 until he was released from the jail five days later.
“I slept for like a day and a half straight,” he said. “I felt like I couldn’t even walk a straight line.”
The decision to test inmates can only be made by a physician, said Sergeant Christopher Covelli, public information officer for the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.
The primary physician who works with the jail makes decisions on who to test based on guidelines from the Illinois Department of Public Health, he said.
Ellis was in the jail on felony charges of aggravated robbery with a firearm and was expecting to serve at least six months while his case was processed.
Instead, Ellis received a call from his attorney, public defender John Hock, on April 9, the day after he began reporting symptoms. Hock said that he would be getting out early.
“Anybody who hears that I got released on a Class 1 felony after 47 days with three years probation? They’re gonna know that there’s something off about that,” Ellis said. “I’m still shocked that I’m even out right now.”
Hock told him that the state’s attorney’s office had heard reports that he was sick and were offering to negotiate a plea deal to get him out of the jail as soon as possible, Ellis said.
“This was a plea agreement reached by Mr. Ellis’ attorney and the state’s attorney’s office,” Covelli wrote in an emailed statement. “We did not recommend an early release for him.”
Ellis was released on April 13 and immediately went to a hotel to quarantine himself from his family, as he suspected he had contracted the virus, he said.
“There were people that were sick before me up there,” he said. “By the time I left, everybody was sick, everybody was complaining about something.”
Two days later, in the early morning hours of April 15, Ellis said he called an ambulance because he couldn’t breathe. He was taken to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, where he tested positive for COVID-19.
On Tuesday, Ellis said he has mostly recovered from the virus but still is experiencing mild respiratory symptoms. He is eager to leave the hotel and be reunited with his kids, who he has not seen in about two months, he said.
New COVID-19 mitigation efforts
Since being notified of Ellis’ positive COVID-19 test result, the Lake County Jail has implemented a number of mitigation efforts to prevent an outbreak within the facility, Covelli said.
On Tuesday, the jail was notified that a new female inmate, who also happens to be pregnant, tested positive for COVID-19, according to a news release from the sheriff’s office.
Two other male inmates were given COVID-19 tests, both of which came back negative on Tuesday, Covelli said. The jail currently is using Unit 1E as a holding pod where newly remanded inmates are held for an isolation period of 14 days before they can join the general population, he said.
“If they develop symptoms, certainly those can be treated and addressed, but, if they’re asymptomatic, the hope is that when moved to general population, they’re no longer shedding the virus and potentially spreading it to other inmates,” Covelli said.
The inmates of Unit 1E are not locked down and share a common area, but Covelli said “they’re spaced out as much as possible by our correctional staff.”
The female inmate who tested positive for the virus is in an isolation cell and has her meals and other necessities delivered to her. All officers assigned to Unit 1E, as well as the jail’s other medical segregation units, are restricted to those areas and required to use personal protective equipment, he said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there were five inmates being held in the medical unit and a total of 16 inmates were in the jail’s newly remanded isolation area, Covelli said.
The facility’s total population is down to 439 inmates after 40 non-violent offenders were released early March 30, Covelli said. The inmates were determined not to pose a flight risk and had less than 45 days left on their sentences.
The jail has also limited movement of inmates between pods, increased cleaning procedures, implemented screening of inmates and jail staff upon arrival to the jail and established the use of electronic bond hearings, Covelli said.
Additionally, inmates who are granted a recognizance bond at their initial hearing never actually enter the general population area, he said.
Reports of COVID-19 symptoms and how they are handled
Menard said many of the preventive measures put in place for the jail’s general population do not seem to be carried out consistently.
“They say they’re taking measures to limit movement, but I’m sitting here on the phone and I got three inmates at the table next to me playing dominoes like we’re all out here together,” he said.
The jail has been working closely with the Lake County Health Department to ensure that anyone who was in contact with Ellis is quarantined for a period of 14 days, Covelli said. The pod where he was housed was converted into a medical segregation unit after Ellis began reporting symptoms, he said.
Menard said he spoke with an inmate this week who was allegedly transferred to his pod (4N) from 6T, the pod where Ellis was housed, just nine days after Ellis’s release. Covelli confirmed that Ellis was housed in 6T.
Of the 10 inmates housed with Ellis, “one posted bail and has since been bonded out ... the remaining nine are not displaying any signs or symptoms of illness,” Covelli wrote in an emailed statement.
Menard and some of his fellow inmates are now showing symptoms associated with COVID-19 including dry cough, headaches and feelings of feverishness, body aches and congestion, Menard said.
Inmates can request to see a nurse through tablets provided to them by the jail or by filling out a medical request slip, Covelli said. Depending on the severity of the symptoms reported, he said medical providers respond to requests within a few minutes to a few hours.
Menard said it often takes several days to get a response from the jail’s medical staff and, even then, he feels they haven’t been taking his symptoms seriously.
“For two days, I didn’t even get out of bed,” Menard said. “And they told me to go lay back down and if it gets worse to let them know. But what’s worse? It is worse.”
Families of inmates express their concern
Tiffany Long, whose fiancé is an inmate in the jail, said she is worried he may have been exposed to the virus. Her fiancé, Shane Nichols, said inmates no longer are being provided with carbon copies of their medical request slips, which makes her fear they are being ignored, Long wrote in an emailed statement.
Covelli said medical staff respond to all medical request slips in a timely manner.
“We document everything that goes on in the facility,” he said. “There are video cameras all over so I mean we have nothing to hide.”
Another concerned partner, Sarah Sobecki, said her husband, Marc Sanchez, 21, was placed in the Lake County Jail in mid-March on charges of aggravated battery and aggravated discharge of a firearm. With no prior convictions, Sanchez was given a bail amount of $1 million and they were unable to pay the required 10% of bail, Sobecki said.
Sanchez began experiencing COVID-19-related symptoms last week and has not been tested for the virus, Sobecki said.
“He told me they’re ignoring him and then he started to say that he’s coughing up blood, I was like, ‘OK, that sounds serious,’ “ she said.
One of the jail’s nurses listened to Sanchez’s chest with a stethoscope and told him he has congestion in his lungs. He was told to rest and has not been isolated from the rest of his pod, Sobecki said.
“There’s places like Cook County where this wasn’t taken seriously and there’s a real outcome for that,” Menard said. “Once it gets in here, and I have a feeling it already is, it’s gonna be bad.”
Menard was arrested for failure to appear in court for 2018 charges of possession of a firearm by a felon, his wife, Leticia, said.
His next court date has been postponed until May 22 due to courtroom closures, she said.
Leticia said she calls Menard daily to check in and waves to him through the jail’s windows when she visits the facility to reload his call card.
Leticia has two children from a previous relationship. She said they see Menard as a father figure. All three of them have underlying health conditions that could make them susceptible to complications associated with COVID-19, as does Menard himself.
“When he started telling me he was feeling sick and stuff, I just felt like I can’t do anything but something has to be done,” Leticia said.
Local leaders advocate for the release of more inmates
Covelli said the sheriff’s office is doing everything within its power to prevent the coronavirus from spreading within the jail. He said they have been holding daily meetings to ensure that all jail staff are aware of new procedures.
“We have a very important obligation to protect our inmates who are in our custody,” he said. “Our correctional staff take that responsibility extremely seriously.”
Founder of Black Lives Matter, Lake County Chapter, Clyde McLemore said he runs a transition program with the jail and does not think they have done enough to protect inmates from COVID-19.
On March 21, McLemore wrote a joint letter to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office with Anthony McIntyre, founder of the Antmound Foundation which, in part, seeks to improve social equity by reducing recidivism rates.
“The COVID-19 virus spread rapidly in Chinese correctional facilities,” according to the letter. “Now the U.S., which unfortunately leads the world when it comes to incarceration, faces that same challenge.”
The letter urges sheriff’s office officials to increase testing in the jail, reduce on-site staff where possible and release all elderly inmates as well as inmates being held on minor infractions because of their inability to make bail.
It is not within the jurisdiction of the sheriff’s office to release inmates early, Covelli said. The decision to allow the release of additional non-violent offenders can only be made by a judge.
“This certainly isn’t a situation where correctional administration or sheriff’s administration have sat on their hands and not made major changes to work to prevent this from entering the jail and, if it is in the jail, containing it,” he said. “It has been an all hands on deck effort.”