Coronavirus

Dallas County Jail Inmate Speaks Out Amid COVID-19 Surge

A Dallas County Jail detainee released on bail last week describes an "appalling" lack of protections against COVID-19, as cases surge to near-record levels across the state. Texas jails and prisons emerged as the worst COVID-19 hotspots in the U.S. during last year's surges.
A Dallas County Jail detainee released on bail last week describes an "appalling" lack of protections against COVID-19, as cases surge to near-record levels across the state. Texas jails and prisons emerged as the worst COVID-19 hotspots in the U.S. during last year's surges. Pixabay
Chris Galt was in line to be bailed out of Dallas County Jail when he realized he could no longer smell.

Ten days ago, Galt waited along with a group of fellow detainees outside the jail's bond division, trying to post bail. An argument broke out between a jailer and a detainee ahead of him in line. Galt said the jailer pepper-sprayed the detainee, filling the narrow hallway with acrid fumes. Everyone around Galt began to cough and retch at the stench.

Galt was fine, though. “There was a bit of a catch in my throat, but these guys are all choking [on pepper spray], and I’m just breathing fine through my nose,” Galt said. “And then I realized that I’m actually missing this sense."

Galt, 39, was arrested and brought to Dallas County Jail in the early morning of July 29, after an argument with his brother turned violent. Within a few days, he began to cough and feel dizzy. “I didn’t want to admit that I was having issues that fit with the bill of COVID,” said Galt, who has not been vaccinated. But over the next five days, his symptoms became so severe that he submitted an urgent request for medical attention, he said.


It took more than 48 hours for an officer to respond to his request and escort him to the onsite clinic on Aug. 4, he said. As he waited, Galt became increasingly “appalled” by the conditions inside the jail.

He and his fellow detainees were only granted one disposable mask after being processed into the jail. None of the detainees wore masks in the general holding area, except when they had to interact with jailers, who Galt said almost never entered the area.

Inside his room, bunks were so close together that “if you outstretched your hand, you could touch one bunk from the other,” Galt said. With six people total per room, social distancing was impossible.

By way of preventative cleaning, jailers would leave a bucket and a mop by the door of the rooms once every several days. “Even the penitentiary veterans were like, ‘What the fuck dude, we got no chemicals to clean with, we got nothing,’” Galt recalled.

Detainees were offered a change of clothes once a week, and never offered a change of undergarments during Galt's two weeks inside the jail, he claimed. To alleviate the smell of dirty clothes worn for days in close quarters, detainees resorted to washing their clothes in the toilets with soap purchased from the commissary—if they could afford it—“because the toilets got better water pressure than the sinks”.

By the time a jailer brought Galt to see an onsite medical provider, he was coughing incessantly, and he felt so weak that he could barely move from his bed.

An officer led Galt to the clinic, past signs posted throughout the general holding area, ordering detainees to maintain social-distancing, he said. When he reached the clinic, the officer seated Galt in a row of detainees “lined up hip to hip, with no separation whatsoever,” while awaiting treatment.

Eventually, Galt said, a nurse from the Parkland Health and Hospital System took his temperature, told him it was within normal range, and then released him back into the jail’s general population. He was never tested for coronavirus.

Over the next five days, Galt’s condition worsened. He tried to keep a low profile, while coughing and staving off dizziness in his bunk. Only while watching fellow detainees retch at the smell of pepper spray while waiting to be bailed out on Aug. 9 did Galt realize he had also lost his sense of smell.

The Dallas County Sheriff's Office didn't respond to requests for comment.

The ACLU of Texas has been fighting Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown in federal court since April 2020, alleging that the Sheriff’s Office has failed in its constitutional mandate to protect detainees from the coronavirus. This is a lawsuit that could be resolved if the county takes some small steps to keep people safe in the jail,” ACLU Staff Attorney Brian Klosterboer told the Observer last month, listing testing of detainees with symptoms, providing reliable access to adequate personal protective equipment, and regularly sanitizing the jail.

Brown has repeatedly asked for the case to be dismissed, claiming her office is providing adequate protections. Meanwhile, the Delta variant is driving a resurgence of COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations in Dallas County.

During the pandemic’s initial surges last year, Texas jails and prisons emerged as the worst COVID-19 hotspots in the country.

“By the time I got out of there, the dude in the bunk below me was coughing too,” said Galt, who was released on bail last Wednesday. Galt is now in quarantine, awaiting trial, hoping to regain his sense of smell.
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Murney is a reporting fellow at the Dallas Observer and a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. His reporting has appeared in Chicago’s South Side Weekly and the Chicago Reader.
Contact: Michael Murney