Defense Attorney Wants To Get Vulnerable Inmate Out Of Fresno Jail

Mar 25, 2020

It’s hard to practice social distancing when you’re in jail and the close quarters increase the risk of contracting the coronavirus. That’s why one Fresno attorney is trying to get his vulnerable client out.

Armando Toro, 62, has diabetes and high blood pressure. These pre-existing conditions put him at a higher risk of becoming severely ill if he’s infected. 

“His treatment is going to take a lot of valuable medical resources that are going to be needed for all the other people who are going to get this illness,” said Kevin Rooney, Toro’s attorney. “He’s also one more person who can spread this disease around.”

Rooney wants Toro to await trial from his daughter’s home, where he can practice social distancing. Toro is being held in the Fresno County Jail without bail on charges of drug trafficking from the federal government

“Reducing the jail population, triaging the vulnerable who do not pose a risk of violence to the community would be an extraordinarily wise thing to do at this time,” said Rooney. 

Rooney isn’t the only attorney worried about the risk of COVID-19 in jails and detention centers. A panel from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the release of a woman seeking asylum from Mexico earlier this week. In New York, an inmate was granted a temporary release from custody during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The U.S. Attorney's office, which is prosecuting Armando Toro’s case, has opposed letting him go. It argued that “the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak at the Jail is simply speculative at this time,” and the jail is capable of managing the health of its inmates.

Tony Botti with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office said there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the jail; however, two inmates are being tested for the coronavirus. 

He added that the staff are taking extra precautions: Visits have been suspended, and new detainees are being screened for symptoms before they enter the jail. However, infection can be spread even before symptoms appear.

“If we had a jail of 3,291 beds and we had 3,291 isolated cells, it would be the easiest thing in the world to run a jail,” said Botti. “But we don't have that luxury. There’s going to be people mixed together and space is at a premium and we have to do the best we can to ensure their safety.”

While the risk of COVID-19 is motivating attorney Kevin Rooney’s motion to get Toro out of jail, Rooney said it’s slowing the process down. 

“It's ironic,” he said. “The court is taking incredible precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus through court appearances, and that's hindering my ability to use the legal process to get Mr. Toro and the community protected from the spread of coronavirus in the jail.”

The motion Rooney filed to get Toro released could be heard Friday morning; however, the judge could make a decision without hearing any arguments.