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Baltimore County inmate alleges corrections officers did little to protect them from raw sewage leak on cellblock

A Baltimore County Detention Center inmate has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that requests for COVID-19 testing were denied and that he and others were forced to remain in their cells after raw sewage leaked and overflowed into their cellblock.

Robert Burkey wrote in federal court documents that he and others were confined to their cells April 14 due to coronavirus restrictions when raw sewage seeped onto their tier. The men waited 17 hours before the refuse was removed, and Burkey, 37, said he received no meals or his prescribed medication during that time.

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Burkey’s lawsuit asserts that corrections staff were immediately made aware of the problems but did nothing. Burkey is in jail awaiting trial on armed robbery charges, and no trial date has been set, according to Maryland court records.

Baltimore County officials did not address any of the specifics outlined in Burkey’s lawsuit, but did issue a statement saying they are committed to protecting inmates in their care.

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“The Baltimore County Department of Corrections takes the responsibility of ensuring the health and safety of incarcerated individuals seriously and has implemented a number of COVID-19 safeguards to protect both inmates and Correctional staff,” Sean Naron, press secretary for the Office of Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said in a statement.

“The county will carefully review all the concerns raised in the complaint. As litigation is pending the County cannot comment further at this time.”

Burkey’s lawsuit focuses on both the circumstances surrounding the sewage issues and what he called Baltimore County’s generally poor efforts to protect inmates and staff from the coronavirus.

In the court filing Burkey alleges that from April 14 to April 18, he was “forced” to remain in his cell with no toilet water, while waste from him and his bunkmate piled up. At one point, Burkey got sick due to the smell of waste and moldy conditions, he said.

The lawsuit also outlines a list of complaints over the way staff and the institution dealt with the coronavirus outbreak.

For example, Burkey alleges that from March until the end of June no correctional staff wore protective gear, which he said scared him and other inmates. He further argues that social distancing guidelines have been “ignored,” and that his repeated requests for COVID-19 tests have been denied.

The lawsuit filed July 8 also alleges that the detention center has not been providing inmates with proper food or giving inmates access to exercise as required.

The suit also alleges that mental health staff discussed Burkey’s mental health disabilities in front of other inmates.

Concerns for the well-being of Maryland’s prison and jail inmates have been at the heart of lawsuits, marches and petitions across the state in the months since coronavirus took hold in early March. Advocates have particularly argued for more testing and for inmates to be supplied with proper protective equipment and access to sanitizers and soaps.

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