BOSTON – The U.S. Attorney’s Office prevailed in a habeas class action brought by law firms WilmerHale and Todd & Weld LLP seeking the release of over 150 detainees awaiting trial on federal charges, including serious drug and gun crimes, on the ground that continued detention was unconstitutional because of the threat to health and safety posed by COVID-19.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has put enormous pressure on detention facilities,” stated United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling. “Our law enforcement partners in Plymouth met that challenge by swiftly instituting measures to ensure the safety of detainees, staff, and the public. Consequently, they prevailed, despite the plaintiffs’ insistence that the facility was still unsafe. We are pleased the Court recognized Plymouth’s efforts in this case.”
“The health and safety of the persons committed to the Department’s care and custody, the staff, and the public is of paramount importance,” Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph D. McDonald, Jr., said. “It is gratifying to see that the Court has recognized the many measures the Department has taken to protect people during this time of unprecedented challenge.”
In April 2020, the detainees filed a habeas petition challenging the conditions at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility (“PCCF”), the state jail where they are held, as inadequate to address the COVID-19 pandemic. They sought an injunction that would require the immediate release of some or all of them, as well as various other forms of relief. In May 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Leo T. Sorokin denied their request for an injunction based on the many measures and policies in place at PCCF to protect detainees and staff, but stopped short of dismissing the case at that time. In September 2020, the Court found that the detainees could not establish an entitlement to habeas relief, and that it would deny the habeas petition unless they presented additional evidence by Oct. 8, 2020. Instead, the detainees voluntarily dismissed the case.
U.S. Attorney Lelling and Sheriff McDonald made the announcement today. The case was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jason C. Weida and Rachel Goldstein of Lelling’s Civil Division, with assistance from Lisa Olson of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.