SUMTER COUNTY, Fla. — An inmate at the federal correctional complex in Sumter County has filed a class-action lawsuit urging all female inmates to be released because she says a Legionnaire's disease outbreak there is causing hazardous conditions.
- Class-action lawsuit filed in wake of Legionnaire's outbreak at federal prison
- Lawsuit filed by inmate says outbreak is indicative of unsafe conditions there
- Suit says inmates' constitutional rights have been violated, should be released
- RELATED: Legionnaires' Breaks Out at Coleman Federal Women's Prison
Legionnaire's is a lung disease and is typically spread when someone breathes in contaminated water droplets. Federal officials acknowledge some inmates at a satellite camp of Federal Correctional Complex Coleman were diagnosed with Legionnaire's in January.
At the correctional complex camp, a minimum security prison, female inmates are living in what this lawsuit calls "an emergency crisis."
Shelma Wolfenbarger’s niece is currently serving time at the camp. She said her niece says there are missing ceiling tiles and mold throughout the facility.
Kara Adams, who filed the class-action lawsuit on behalf of female inmates at the Coleman camp, is an inmate herself. In her lawsuit, Adams says the women’s living conditions are "hazardous to the inmates' health," with "sewage backed up into the shower area" and "pipes and air ducts (that are) are exposed, collecting condensation and dripping on people."
The lawsuit also alleges that not every inmate has been tested for Legionnaire's disease or seen by medical staff. Wolfenbarger says her niece asked to be tested but was denied.
Helen Pendland, whose daughter transferred out of Coleman on Tuesday, says her daughter wasn’t tested even though she had symptoms.
"She couldn’t talk. She had a fever. She could not breathe. She went to medical every time. They called for medical and was not seen," Pendland said.
The lawsuit, filed against U.S. Attorney General William Barr and others, outlines four requests: that the court declare that the inmates' constitutional rights were violated, that all female inmates be released to their homes or families' care, that each inmate receive health insurance for life, and punitive damages.
A spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons declined to directly answer questions about the Legionnaire's outbreak, the suspension of testing, and the camp's living conditions, citing the pending lawsuit.
The spokesman instead sent a written statement: "After we received the first confirmed diagnoses of legionella, corrective measures were put in place... including installation of the recirculating pumps and the point-of-use filters. ... In an abundance of caution... staff will continue to closely monitor and provide treatment, if clinically indicated."
For Wolfenbarger and Pendland, they said they simply want their loved ones, and all inmates, the right to serve their time in a healthy and safe place.
"Yes, they committed a crime. Yes, they deserve to pay their time, but I don’t want it to be a life sentence for her," Wolfenbarger said. "I don’t want it to cost it her life."
Previous reports said there were 23 Legionnaire's cases at the Coleman camp. But the Bureau of Prisons spokesman said that was based on incorrect data. There were actually two confirmed cases at the camp, he said.
He said both the Bureau of Prisons and the Florida Department of Health are continuing to review the matter.