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Judge refutes Washington Post article based on “misconstrued” texts

Judge David Ritchie responding to Washginton Post article based on texts from a private conversation.
Updated: Mar. 30, 2020 at 10:10 PM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) -Since the coronavirus began to spread, there’s been concern about those incarcerated, even though the sheriff says they’ve had no inmate with the virus. Still, defense attorneys have been trying to get clients released.

A couple of weeks ago, the nine judges of the 14th Judicial District in Calcasieu Parish, began discussing whether certain non-violent inmates in jail should be released because of the virus.

Judge David Ritchie says the conversation was about hygiene and the suggestion that the jail is a breeding place for bacteria and viruses, making it too dangerous for inmates to be there.

In a group text with the other eight judges, Ritchie raised concern about releasing non-violent prisoners--saying "members of this particular population are overwhelmingly drug addicts who have the worst hygiene of anyone in the community other than the mentally ill. Right now, they are realistically quarantined in jail," he said.

That text was sent to the Washington Post, which did an article, putting Ritchie in a poor light.

First, the judge says his comments were taken out of context and that his concern was that people with substance abuse problems would likely not worry about social distancing, washing hands and protecting the community.

"The day we had this meeting was the first day kids were going to be let out of school for an extended period. That's why I was asking these questions just to see what other options there were before just deciding to release everybody from jail who were legitimately in jail," said Ritchie. “If the point was to stop the corona, this makes no sense.”

And when the judge spoke of the mentally ill, he says he was talking about those severely disturbed.

“We have some severely mentally ill people in jail, who throw urine and feces on the walls, stuff like that. Those are the people I was talking about,” he said.

Ritchie says he had a brother who died two years ago, who suffered with mental illness for 25 years.

“I would never make disparaging comments about any group of people as a whole and I think it’s important for people to understand that,” he said.

As well, the judge objects to any blanket release of inmates and said each must be handled individually. He said it’s their duty to ask questions and review options. Ritchie says he did release seven, whose cases he reviewed individually after discussing with their attorneys and the assistant D.A. handling the cases. Ritchie says he also refused to release those whose cases were being handled by other judges.

He says some cases considered non-violent include burglary, child pornography, possession of a weapon by a convicted felon, drug dealers.

“I mean there’s a lot of people, a lot of crimes are considered non-violent crimes. They may not be considered violent crimes, but they are serious charges,” he said. “We have to make responsible decisions. That’s what the public expects us to do.”

Ritchie founded Drug Treatment Court thirteen years ago and is involved in both Veterans Court and DWI Court, which aim to help people rehabilitate and improve their lives.

“I want people who have substance abuse problems to have a better life. For anybody to suggest that I would talk in a derogatory way about any people that fell into those categories just couldn't be further from the truth. Because I can tell you as a person, as a Christian, I don't talk in a derogatory manner about any groups of people that are suffering in that manner,” he said. “It just doesn’t happen. It’s just not true. And so this characterization of me just couldn’t be further from the truth.”

As well, Ritchie feels betrayed that a colleague, who he does not identify, would send out a text from a private discussion.

“It makes me sad,” said Ritchie. “We’re supposed to be open and candid and ask tough questions and not have to worry about, if somebody misconstrues this question, is it going to be sent out to the public.”

Ritchie has served on the 14th JDC sixteen years.

Below is what officials at the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office say they are doing to protect those in jail from COVID-19.

We have suspended all visitation at the CCC & CSP. Inmates have been provided three free phone calls a week. (CCC is Calcasieu Correctional Center. CSP is Calcasieu Sheriff’s Prison.)

All deputies entering the CCC and CSP for their scheduled shifts are screened and checked for temperature or any other symptoms related to COVID-19. If a deputy shows signs, symptoms or possible exposure they are denied entry and sent to a primary care physician – supervisors and/or our HR department will follow up from that point until the deputy is cleared to return to work.

All officers from other agencies coming in to the facilities to book-in arrestees are subject to the same screening. If they present signs, symptoms or possible exposure to COVID-19 they are denied entry.

For book-ins:

• All arrestees are screened prior to booking. They are asked a series of questions in reference to travel, exposure, and/or symptoms relating to COVID-19.

• If the arrestee is showing any signs of illness or possibly exposure, they are segregated and medical staff will assess the situation. They are kept segregated until medical staff clears them. If need be they will be tested for COVID-19.

• If the arrestee is showing no signs/symptoms or exposure they are booked in and placed in a holding cell for 72 hours. After the 72 hours if they are still showing no signs/symptoms of COVID-19 they are then placed into population.

Continuous cleaning of CCC and CSP facilities

0 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19

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