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COVID-19 affects staff, inmates at federal detention center in Pahrump

Updated October 16, 2020 - 8:46 am

Days after news of a federal inmate’s death from the coronavirus at the Nevada Southern Detention Center in Pahrump, the private company that operates the facility announced that a staff member also has died.

CoreCivic, which runs the federal detention center, confirmed the staff member’s death in an emailed response to questions from the Review-Journal on Tuesday. A detention officer died Sunday “due to potential COVID-19 related issues,” spokesman Ryan Gustin said in the statement.

On Friday, Oct. 9, the Nevada federal public defender’s office announced that 29-year-old Brandon Patton, an inmate at the detention center, had died of the coronavirus. The U.S. Marshals Service later confirmed Patton’s death.

Patton was the first known inmate housed in Nevada to die of COVID-19.

In a Wednesday email to the Pahrump Valley Times, Amanda Gilchrist, director of public affairs for CoreCivic, said there are currently four active employee COVID-19 cases.

She also said that 20 additional “employees have recovered from the virus.” These additional employees were all medically cleared to return to work, though the time frame of when this occurred is unknown.

“The active cases are within the past 14 days – all current (positive) staff are self-isolating at home and are in regular communication with their health care providers,” Gilchrist said in an email.

According to information on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s website on COVID-19 statistics, the site shows a total of 11 confirmed COVID-19 cases that have occurred at the facility. A specific time line is not given on the positives reported on the site.

The Pahrump facility is the only federal detention center in the state. The Department of Corrections, which operates state prisons, has not had any staff members or prisoners die of the virus, according to Department of Health and Human Services data.

CoreCivic did not release the employee’s name Tuesday “out of respect for the family’s privacy,” the company said in the statement.

“Our hearts go out to our employee’s loved ones, and we pray for their peace and comfort,” the statement said.

In September, three Congress members, including Nevada’s Rep. Steven Horsford and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, visited the facility during a congressional oversight tour. A statement from the legislators released in September called out the facility for their treatment of detainees under Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.

The facility also houses people in federal Bureau of Prisons and Marshals Service custody.

On Friday, the federal public defender’s office said conditions inside the facility are “unacceptable.” Attorneys have attempted to have detainees who have not faced sentencing released from the facility while awaiting trial.

In August, the office filed a petition against the detention center regarding the facility’s “failing to clean and sanitize, placing infected detainees in solitary confinement, and creating an overall inhumane and unsanitary environment.”

Interim Editor Jeffrey Meehan contributed to this report.

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