Detention Center

Inmate laborers in B Pod relax on Thursday, November 29, 2018, at the Gallatin County Detention Center.

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An inmate at the Gallatin County jail was released after officials learned the person had been exposed to the coronavirus.

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said jail officials, after learning of the exposure, immediately put the person in a cell that has its own ventilation system. He said that inmate is no longer at the jail and tests results on Saturday showed the person had contracted COVID-19.

Gootkin said he couldn’t provide specifics in order to avoid identifying the person.

He said the jail has taken all the precautions and worked with the health department immediately after learning about the case. He said there will likely be “a certain population of the public” that uses this to argue the jail is unsafe during the pandemic.

“That is absolutely not the case,” Gootkin said. “Those inmates are safe and healthy, but, like anywhere else in Gallatin County and Montana, there is still a possibility.”

He said nurses inside the jail are monitoring the inmates who came in contact with the person.

“There was very limited exposure to other inmates,” Gootkin said.

Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert told the Associated Press the inmate who tested positive violated his probation and was arrested on Saturday. The inmate was released Monday.

Lambert said he did not know how many inmates might be tested for exposure to the coronavirus.

Mike Thatcher, CEO of the company who runs the county’s re-entry program, told AP the inmate was symptomatic when he was taken to jail. He said another resident and a employee at the program also tested positive for COVID-19. Thatcher said other tests are pending.

The case in the jail was brought to light in an emergency petition from Disability Rights Montana asking the Montana Supreme Court to give jailers consistent direction for dealing with coronavirus. It also asks the high court to reduce the number of inmates in jails and prison.

The petitioners said COVID-19 will spread quickly, overwhelm facility resources and threaten the lives of inmates and staff.

The petition said jailers’ responses to the coronavirus have been inconsistent throughout the state.

Gallatin County jail was noted in the petition for taking steps that should set the bar for what the statewide response to coronavirus should look like in detention centers. It notes that jail commander Jim Anderson said the county is releasing nonviolent offenders, providing hand sanitizer, providing telehealth in disinfected rooms and enforcing social distancing measures within the building.

The petition names all Montana courts, the Department of Corrections and the Board of Pardons and Parole as respondents. Most respondents have asked that the petition be thrown out and said that judges and jailers are doing what they can to prevent spread of the virus and reduce jail populations.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Freddy Monares can be reached at fmonares@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2630.