By Kristal Dixon | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution | January 22, 2020
The American Civil Liberties Union is calling on the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office to provide medical exams for inmates and staff who were exposed to water tainted with a lubricant used by maintenance crews to repair a valve.
The Sheriff’s Office said maintenance staff working on the Adult Detention Center’s water system Friday did not completely wipe away lubrication fluid. Saturday, an inmate informed jail staff that water in one of the housing pods had a “slight odor.” Sheriff’s office staff immediately relocated 25 inmates to another housing area.
Sheriff Neil Warren, in a Sunday press release, said “inmates will not be returned to the housing area pending water quality test results.”
Details about what type of lubricant was used was not released by press time Tuesday. Cobb County spokesman Ross Cavitt said Tuesday that water samples were submitted to the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority for testing. Preliminary results could come in as early as Wednesday.
ACLU staff said they received phone calls over the weekend about the jail’s water quality. The organization said it wants to know whether the water at the jail remains contaminated “with unsafe and potentially lethal toxins.”
Kosha Tucker, ACLU’s staff attorney, said access to safe, clean drinking water is not only a basic human right, but one that’s protected by the Eighth and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
“Everyone in this community should be alarmed over the inhumane and unacceptable conditions at the jail,” Tucker added.
The water issue comes as Warren, who runs the jail, is under fire for seven in-custody deaths reported since December 2018. The deaths, along with a month-long lockdown, have sparked criticism from residents and families, local activists and civil rights organizations, which are calling on the sheriff to address their concerns about medical care for inmates and jail staffing levels.
Warren, who has not spoken publicly about the state of affairs at the Adult Detention Center, criticized the ACLU for “spinning a narrative of crisis and conflict.”
“Our staff does a tremendous job every day, and having the ACLU trying to cause unwarranted alarm within our community and inmates does more harm than good,” he said in a statement.
Christopher Bruce, the ACLU’s political director, said the organization is more concerned about what’s happening at the Adult Detention Center.
“The Cobb County Sheriff’s Office does not need to be focused on the ACLU,” Christopher Bruce, the ACLU’s political director, said. “They need to be focused on the safety and well-being of those who work at the Adult Detention Center and those who are incarcerated there.”