Utah prosecutor weighs in on suit demanding release of inmates

May 7, 2020, 5:13 PM

inmates release...

File photo: KSL

SALT LAKE CITY — Prisons and jails across the nation are releasing low-level, nonviolent inmates to slow the spread of the coronavirus in crowded lockups.

On April 1, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Utah Disability Law Center and the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys filed a “Petition for Extraordinary Relief with the Utah Supreme Court” demanding that Utah prison officials and local jails release more inmates to protect prisoners from the spread of the coronavirus while “ensuring safety for our communities outside of correctional facilities.”

“We bring this lawsuit because we think that the measures now being taken do not match the enormity and urgency of the problem we face,” wrote John Mejia, legal director at the ACLU of Utah, in the petition.

‘Pro-active’ release of inmates

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill joined Lee Lonsberry on Live Mic to discuss the lawsuit and releasing inmates from the county jail during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gill said that when the pandemic first arrived, his office and Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera started releasing low-level offenders March 20. The county released 90 non-violent inmates, then another 25 a week later. 

On March 30, Gill discussed the news on KSL with Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic.

Gill said the release of low-level offenders was done with two objectives in mind: to guarantee an empty jail cell was available for any and all violent criminals in order to ensure public safety and to create flexibility for the sheriff because concentrated space can further spread coronavirus in the jail.

“We have been able to reduce [the inmate population] by 35 to 40 percent, creating that flexibility. There was a COVID-19 outbreak that occurred, but there hasn’t been a positive COVID case in the jail from April 15,” Gill said.

The lawsuit

After those steps were taken, “We get sued by the ACLU. . . just putting forward a bunch of hyperbole. No evidentiary understanding or factual understanding of what was really going on in Salt Lake County in the middle of a pandemic,” Gill said.

“We were being responsible. We were trying to keep our community safe, and so we took umbrage to that litigation. We filed a response that it’s a frivolous lawsuit in the middle of a pandemic, which is unnecessary,” Gill said. 

He said Sheriff Rivera took mitigation steps to slow the spread starting with jail intake. Anyone admitted to jail starts their time there with a 28 day quarantine. They must show no symptoms of coronavirus infection before they can move to the general population of the jail.

“Did the ACLU have any contact with you or Sheriff Rivera before they filed this petition?” Lee asked.

“We have always made ourselves available to the ACLU. We have always had an open door,” Gill said. 

Violent prisoners stay put

“How have those released offenders done? Have there been any consequences? Has there been any recidivism among those folks as you’ve let them go?” Lee asked.

“We’ve had a few. But it’s been pretty amazing. It has not compromised, in any concerted way, the public safety,” Gill said.

Gill said offenders considered a risk to the community won’t be released. That includes suspected rapists, murderers or those who commit domestic violence offenses. 

“And we’re keeping an empty jail bed for the next one who wants to engage in that conduct,” Gill said.

Of the released prisoners, he said a couple have reoffended, but their violations have been “minor and very small” compared with the number released and the benefit to taxpayers and public safety during the pandemic.

Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry airs weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Crime, Police + Courts

police cars...

Mariah Maynes

SLCPD identify two killed in workplace shooting

Salt Lake City Police Department said they have identified two men who were killed in a workplace shooting on Sunday. 

7 hours ago

police cars...

Mark Jackson

Two men dead in Salt Lake workplace shooting

One man was found inside the building, another outside. Police don’t believe there’s an imminent threat.

23 hours ago

Former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Scot Peterson shown, a school arming school staff is aw...

Curt Gresseth

Utah lawmaker discusses arming school workers

Arming school workers will lead to safer schools, says a Utah lawmaker whose bill awaits the governor's pen to become law.

3 days ago

Bountiful police car...


One man dead after shooting in Bountiful

Officers in Bountiful arrived on the scene and found a man in his 20s with a gunshot wound. The man later died at the hospital.

4 days ago

execution chamber in idaho prison...

Associated Press

Idaho halts execution by lethal injection after 8 failed attempts to insert IV line

Thomas Eugene Creech Creech, one of the longest-serving death row inmates in the U.S., was wheeled into the execution chamber at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution on a gurney at 10 a.m.

5 days ago

Ruby Franke stands with her attorney, Lamar Winward, at her sentencing on Tuesday. Her brother and ...

Jessica Lowell

Ruby Franke and Jodi Hildebrandt transferred to Utah State Correctional Facility

The two women will each spend one to 15 years at the facility for child abuse.

5 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

Utah prosecutor weighs in on suit demanding release of inmates