Sheriff releases updated COVID-19 data, files motion to dismiss lawsuit 

The Tuscaloosa County Jail has seen at least 184 inmate infections since the start of the pandemic.


CW / Carson Redwine

Community members stage a December protest to urge Sheriff Ron Abernathy to release jail COVID-19 data after failing to comply with a Freedom of Information request.

Tuscaloosa Sheriff Ron Abernathy has filed a motion to dismiss the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) lawsuit demanding the release of COVID-19 data for the county jail. 

The SPLC filed the lawsuit against Abernathy in November, four months after Abernathy failed to comply with an open records request for the information. 

In his motion to dismiss the case on Jan. 22, he shared the number of COVID-19 tests distributed between March and November. 

The most recent numbers provided to The Crimson White by Abernathy show more than 6,000 bookings and 536 COVID-19 tests conducted since the beginning of the pandemic. Of those tests, 184 inmates tested positive. 

The SPLC requested information about the number of tests administered, the number of positive results and related cell assignment policies. Abernathy has not met the SPLC’s demands to create a public dashboard with consistent updates but will provide information to members of the media who request it. 

Abernathy said the lawsuit “was a miscommunication on our part” as he believed that he had fulfilled the SPLC’s request for the information. This fulfillment seems to have come after the Aug. 14 deadline, per the civil suit filed on Aug. 23. 

Tuscaloosa County Circuit Judge Daniel Pruet will determine whether Abernathy’s current updates are sufficient to dismiss the case. If Pruet rules against Abernathy then he will have to release more detailed COVID-19 data for the county jail on a regular basis. 

The jail’s current COVID-19 policy provides inmates with two disposable masks per week. A group of concerned residents, including UA students and staff, organized a mask drive and collected more than 20,900 masks in January. The group made its first donation of 1,600 masks to the jail on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. 

The Tuscaloosa County Democratic Party passed a unanimous resolution demanding that Abernathy improve the jail’s COVID-19 response. The resolution demanded that Abernathy release all COVID data and test all inmates and staff. 

Like the SPLC, the Tuscaloosa Democratic Party demanded information be available to the public. 

The resolution also calls for increased distribution of personal protective equipment and the release of medically vulnerable inmates.