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Mother of DC 1 inmate with COVID-19 says son had symptoms last Tuesday

Published: Jul. 13, 2021 at 4:33 PM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - A Pineville mother of a Rapides Parish DC 1 inmate who contracted COVID-19 in the jail said her son started experiencing symptoms last Tuesday, notifying his family via the jail’s messaging system.

“Chills, couldn’t breathe, his joints were achy,” Johnette Rice told KALB about her son’s experience. “He felt like he was about to pass out.”

Rice’s son, Jordan Johnson, is one of now 34 inmates in the DC 1 jail battling COVID-19. According to the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office, there are 338 inmates in the pre-trial facility. Johnson, who has been in DC 1 for about a month on battery charges, told his mother through the jail’s messaging system last Tuesday that he wasn’t feeling well.

“I can’t take it,” said Rice, reading part of one of the several messages Johnson sent last Tuesday night. “My joints are hurting. I don’t know what’s wrong, mom.”

Rice believes the jail staff didn’t move fast enough to prevent the spread of the virus. She said after receiving multiple messages that night, she said communication went silent. Rice said both she and Johnson’s father called the jail to check on him. Rice later learned that her son was seen by medical staff on Wednesday. And, she said she heard from him personally once again on Friday when he told her he was COVID-19 positive.

Rice is insistent that the COVID-19 spread that hit the jail, and also impacted two corrections deputies, started much earlier than the sheriff’s office said in a press release issued Monday.

“This happened at the beginning of the week,” said Rice, who claims her son tried to get medical help last Tuesday night. She thinks the situation could have been avoided.

“It could have been prevented by testing or even have them isolated for a period of time and then put them in population,” she said.

Johnson is now feeling much better, Rice told us. And, the sheriff’s office told KALB on Tuesday that it believes the situation is now under control through the use of COVID-19 mitigation procedures like masks, fogging of common areas and isolation of COVID-19 positive inmates.

Meanwhile, inmate transportation is still halted until guidance from the Department of Health, according to the sheriff’s office. And, because of that, transportation of pre-trial inmates to court appearances is on hold, too.

Rapides Parish District Attorney Phillip Terrell told KALB that roughly 50% of pre-trial cases in the parish involve inmates in the DC 1 facility.

“We have pretrials Wednesday and Thursday,” said Terrell. “Those are essential. But, the only people who won’t be there will be the people who are in jail. We’re going to go ahead and go forward with everything we can go forward on.”

Terrell is hoping the incident in the jail isn’t a sign of what’s to come around the state, especially after the Louisiana Supreme Court halted court appearances last year at the height of the pandemic, leading to a backlog on the criminal docket.

“I’m hoping and praying not,” said Terrell. “We don’t need another bog down like we had with the shutdown. The system can’t afford that. We need to go forward with our cases.”

Meanwhile, the sheriff’s office told us that it’s working on getting rapid COVID-19 tests conducted at DC 1 when inmates are first booked. And, we’re told, while the state offers vaccines for DOC inmates, they’re hopeful vaccine availability could become a reality for pre-trial inmates as well. The sheriff’s office also insists that when an inmate feels sick, they take it seriously.

Rice said while there may be some people out there who don’t feel sympathy for the situation her son and other inmates are going through, she’s hoping they’ll have a change of heart.

“They’re inmates, but they’re still humans,” she said. “They are somebody’s son, somebody’s brother, somebody’s uncle. It’s sad that people feel that way.”

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