More than 70% of inmates, jailers tested at 201 Poplar are positive for COVID-19

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 29, 2020 3:33 PM CT | Published: April 29, 2020 3:19 PM CT

More than 70% of 266 pretrial detainees and jail employees tested for COVID-19 at 201 Poplar late last week were positive, according to numbers provided by Shelby County Health Department Director Dr. Alisa Haushalter Wednesday, April 29.

Speaking at the daily COVID Task Force briefing, Haushalter said 266 detainees and jail employees were tested. Of the total, 155 inmates and 37 employees were positive, about 72%.

The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office announced last Friday that county and state health officials were slated to test 400 detainees and corrections deputies at the Downtown men’s jail.

Sheriff’s Office employee dies from COVID-19

Nearly 400 tested at 201 Poplar

“We had planned and anticipated we might test up to 400 or over 400, but ultimately tested 266 that were in various specific areas of the facility,” Haushalter said. “And those test results came back over the weekend through (Tuesday).”

Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner, also speaking at the briefing, said the detainees who tested positive have been quarantined on the sixth floor of 201 Poplar in a sterilized environment.

“We are working with public health officials to identify how these detainees contracted the virus,” Bonner said.

He said the detainees who tested positive were all asymptomatic.

<strong>Shelby County Sheriff <br />Floyd Bonner</strong>

Shelby County Sheriff
Floyd Bonner

“My office will continue to work with our criminal justice partners to responsibly reduce jail populations,” Bonner said.

Bonner said the detainees who tested positive are all in the jail on felony charges, the most serious being first-degree murder.

The men’s jail at 201 Poplar has 1,790 incarcerated, while 165 are detained at the women’s jail and 61 children at the juvenile detention center.

Bonner said a total of 50 deputies, four law enforcement officers and three civilians have tested positive. He said two employees are in the hospital.

Jeremy Smith, a corrections deputy at 201 Poplar, died from complications of COVID-19 on April 21.

Josh Spickler, executive director of the Memphis-based Just City advocacy group, said the organization has been pushing county officials to reduce the jail population since the COVID-19 pandemic hit locally. He said the numbers released Wednesday show something has to be done immediately.

<strong>Josh Spickler</strong>

Josh Spickler

“The Sheriff’s Office has a very difficult job on its hands,” Spickler said. “I think what we learned today is that you can’t stop science. What we know about this disease – and what we’ve known about it from the very early stage when it first arrived in California – is that in conditions like cruise ships, jails and nursing homes, it thrives. So when the sheriff says that the low number of tests is proof that our medical staff has this under control, that is just not true. That is not based on evidence.”

Spickler said Just City has been working to get detainees out of jail by posting their bond, but it has been difficult with the courts not operating fully because of the virus.

“So we’re seeing people who would ordinarily get an attorney in a day or two, it is taking a week,” he said. “At Just City, we’ve been trying to bail people out, but we can’t find those people as quickly when the public defenders aren’t appointed.

“They are just not bringing people to court. The courts are operating at an all-time low capacity. We’ve got to figure out a way where people, if they have to make a stop at the jail, to get them back home as quickly as possible, and we’re not doing that.”

 Editor’s Note: The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed. Our journalists continue to work around the clock to provide you with the extensive coverage you need; if you can subscribe, please do


201 Poplar Floyd Bonner Jr. coronavirus
Yolanda Jones

Yolanda Jones

Yolanda Jones covers criminal justice issues and general assignment news for The Daily Memphian. She previously was a reporter at The Commercial Appeal.

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