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L.A. inmates ‘deliberately’ infected themselves with COVID-19, sheriff says

Click to play video: 'Inmates ‘deliberately trying to catch COVID-19,’ LA county sheriff says' Inmates ‘deliberately trying to catch COVID-19,’ LA county sheriff says
WATCH: The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has released videos showing inmates sharing water bottles and a face mask as part of what it has described as the “dangerous plot” of inmates deliberately trying to catch COVID-19 – May 12, 2020

“Give me liberty and give me COVID-19” is a dangerous strategy that won’t get you out of jail, according to officials in California.

The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department says more than a dozen inmates were part of a “dangerous plot” to share the novel coronavirus at a California correctional facility, in hopes of contracting COVID-19 and being granted an early release.

The plot was based on a “gross misunderstanding” that inmates would be released if they tested positive for the disease, the sheriff’s department said in a statement.

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L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva says 21 inmates tested positive for COVID-19 “as a direct result” of an effort to spread the disease with a shared water bottle.

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“It’s sad to think that someone deliberately tried to expose themselves to COVID-19,” Villanueva said at a news conference on Monday.

“There was some mistaken belief that there was a way to force our hand and somehow release more inmates out of our jail environment,” he said. “That’s not going to happen.”

Villanueva released security footage of the alleged virus-sharing party on Monday, which shows more than a dozen inmates passing a bottle of water between one another. The footage was captured at the North County Correctional Facility in Castaic, Calif., on Apr. 26, approximately one week before they were all diagnosed.

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The security video shows more than a dozen inmates clustered together in an eating area while one person fills up a bottle at a hot water dispenser. The inmate then joins the group and passes the bottle to another inmate.

“You see the hand-off?” Villanueva says in a voice-over with the video, which is edited to show circles around points of interest.

“They’re going to be sharing swigs from the same bottle of water,” he says. The inmates eventually pass the bottle around, with each person taking a sip before handing it off.

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“Under normal circumstances, no one would do that,” Villanueva said. “Everyone has the same access to the water.”

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He says the inmates were using the hot water to falsely elevate their body temperatures just before a visit from a nurse, whom they knew would be checking their temperatures for novel coronavirus symptoms.

The sickened inmates have not been charged for the incident.

Police say 4,590 inmates have been quarantined within the Los Angeles County jail system as of Tuesday. A total of 357 cases have been confirmed in the county prison system since the outbreak began. Police say 117 people have fully recovered and only 18 were released after testing positive.

L.A. County jails have reduced their population from 17,000 down to less than 12,000 since the outbreak began, the sheriff said.

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“Had this pandemic swept through while we were sitting on 17,000 inmates, the results would have been catastrophic,” Villanueva said.

READ MORE: Some countries that reopened saw upticks in COVID-19 cases — what can Canada learn?

The coronavirus pandemic has challenged prison systems around the world, as it often puts large numbers of people in close confines where the virus can spread easily.

Canadian correctional facilities have conducted a total of 990 tests across the country to date, according to federal data. Those tests have turned up 333 positive cases, of which two have died and 213 have recovered.

No North American facility has adopted a blanket “get out of jail with COVID-19” policy to date.

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