MIAMI – Anthony V. Swain lives with paraplegia, paralysis of the legs and lower body. He also has cystic myelomalacia, the softening of the spinal cord. He is one of the hundreds of prisoners at the Metro West Detention Center who are afraid of the coronavirus pandemic.
Swain fears COVID-19, a highly contagious respiratory illness which has infected more than 5,000 people in Miami-Dade County, is already at the center near Doral. He told his attorneys his cell is filthy and he doesn’t have access to hygiene products.
Swain also told his attorney he used one of his yellow socks and an elastic string from his catheter bag to make himself a facemask because the inmates are all crowded together. Swain is one of seven “medically vulnerable” plaintiffs asking to be released.
“I am trying my best to take care of myself in the midst of this pandemic, no different from you, no different from any other human being. But it’s impossible to do that at this jail," Swain said, according to a statement.
U.S. District Judge Kathleen M. Williams in the Southern District of Florida didn’t agree to free the inmates, but on Tuesday night she issued a temporary restraining order against the Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department.
The order includes a mandate to make sure Swain and other inmates get liquid soap, disinfectants and cleaning supplies and other hygiene products. She also ordered the department to “provide adequate spacing of six feet or more” between inmates.
Juan Diasgranados, a spokesman for MDCR, released a statement on Wednesday morning confirming the department had received the temporary restraining order.
“MDCR continues to assess its operational practices as the COVID-19 situation evolves to ensure the best approach to keep MDCR staff, medical staff and inmates safe,” Diasgranados said in a statement.
The department denied the inmates’ claims in a lawsuit filed by a legal team with attorneys from The Dream Defenders, the Community Justice Project, The Advancement Project National Office, GST LLP and Civil Rights Corps.
The temporary restraining order "largely reiterates the steps already in place across the MDCR system,” Diasgranados wrote.
The judge asked the department to submit a list by Thursday of measures being taken to protect inmates who are older than 60 years old and have underlying health conditions.
Swain is 43 years old. He is facing charges of conspiring to traffic oxycodone, traffic in illegal drugs, 26 counts of unlawful use of a communications device and racketeering.