Citing fear of COVID-19, man files suit against state prison warden
SPRINGFIELD — A man incarcerated in Mike Durfee State Prison in Springfield filed a federal case Monday asserting he fears he will die from the coronavirus if kept in his current conditions.
Rex Gard, 57, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus against Warden Brent Fluke, requesting he be released to house arrest or other supervision because he has a number of health issues, such as asthma, respiratory issues, diabetes and heart disease, that could put him at higher risk if he were to contract COVID-19.
Gard also argued he should be released from the prison because he poses little risk to the public, having served 15 years of a 65-year sentence for nonviolent offenses.
In his complaint, Gard, who was convicted in 2005 of five counts of forgery and one count of grand theft, wrote that while he had been exhibiting symptoms for three weeks, the prison's medical staff refused to quarantine him, test him for the virus or wear personal protective equipment during five medical visits.
Gard also alleged that prison employees are no longer being screened for symptoms and are required to come to work, and he wrote that he "was not sentenced to death and should not have to wait around in unsafe conditions to contract the coronavirus." Those unsafe conditions, he said, include inmates not being issued enough soap to wash their hands frequently, not having a ventilation system, being unable to practice social distancing in an overcrowded unit and having their weekly toilet paper allotment reduced after complaining about the alleged lack of soap.
Staff from the South Dakota Department of Corrections and MDSP did not respond to messages from The Daily Republic prior to publication, but the DOC announced last week correctional employees will begin wearing cloth face masks in phases. Those masks are being constructed by those working for Pheasantland Industries at the prison.
As of March 19, the DOC had no plans in place to change inmates' release dates in response to COVID-19. All in-person visitation at South Dakota correctional facilities has been suspended for over a month, and medical co-pays are being waived for incarcerated people with respiratory complaints.