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Law enforcement, jail step up protection due to COVID-19
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Law enforcement, jail step up protection due to COVID-19

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Screening inmates, court schedule changes and ramping up patrols, the threat of the coronavirus has led local officials to make changes in The T&D region.

Detention centers across the state have released some of their non-violent offenders to curb the populations at their facilities.

Capt. Latarcha K. Wilson at the Bamberg County Detention Center said they have released one inmate. She noted the inmate was serving a family court sentence.

She said the current inmate population there is 18.

More Orangeburg area and South Carolina events postponed, rescheduled

The Orangeburg County Detention Center has not released any non-violent offenders for the purpose of reducing the population at the jail for preventative measures of COVID-19 prevention, said Capt. Tyrone Ryant at the detention center.

Visitors are no longer permitted at both the Orangeburg County Detention Center and Bamberg County Detention Center at least until March 30 to ensure the safety of inmates and staff during the COVID-19 outbreak.

At the OCDC, Orangeburg County Administrator Harold Young said that visitors are restricted to inmates’ attorneys.

He said that there are pastors and those involved in mission work who visit inmates, but those visits are temporarily suspended.  

Video visits aren’t possible at the current OCDC but will be possible at the newly built detention center, which has not yet opened.

The opening of the new detention center had been tentatively scheduled for the end of May, but Young said the date has been set back and an opening date is not yet known.

On Sunday, OCDC inmate intake procedures became modified.

He noted that inmates are screened with a few questions, such as asking them if they’ve recently been out of the country or have been around anyone who has COVID-19.

In addition, inmates are checked for fevers.

Young said detention officers will place inmates in separated and isolation cells, if necessary.

He noted that there are deep cleaning and sanitation efforts already underway at the detention center. He said inmates are adapting to the changes well and they understand the modifications are directives from the governor’s office.

“Most of the pods with functioning TVs have one or two channels, so they’ve been able to watch the press conferences,” Young said, noting they understand the severity of the pandemic.

Young also said there’s been a temporary partial halt to some of the “weekenders.” Young said weekenders are inmates who serve sentences on weekends only.

As for bond court schedules, Young said those are under normal operations of twice daily. He said a consideration of once daily bond hearings is a possibility, if necessary.

In Bamberg and Calhoun counties, twice-a-day bond hearings in magistrate’s court remain the same.

Orangeburg County Chief Magistrate Derrick Dash has suspended all jury trials for the next 30 days at the Orangeburg County Magistrate Court on Ellis Avenue.

As for family court hearings statewide, S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald W. Beatty issued an order on Monday stating such courts will only hear emergency matters including, but not limited to: DSS emergency protective custody, juvenile detentions, bench warrants and emergency petitions for orders of protection from domestic abuse.

Beatty also ordered only the following to be allowed in the emergency hearings: attorneys, their clients and necessary witnesses.

The Orangeburg County Courthouse will remain open to the public for the following reasons: acceptance of filings, emergency hearings and bench warrant hearings.

All General Sessions and Common Pleas Circuit Court jury trials and hearings are postponed through the end of April. Family Court hearings for the weeks of March 16 and March 23 are postponed. 

Jurors who are summoned for this period are excused and should not report.

All child support payment through Family Court must be made online through the State Disbursement Unit.

For additional information, call the Orangeburg County Clerk of Court 803-533-6260.

Two Orangeburg cases: coronavirus found in county; two more die in S.C.

At the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office and Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office, health and safety continue to be priorities.

Calhoun County Sheriff Thomas Summers said, “We are prepared to implement measures, and the safety of the public and our deputies is our number one concerns.”

Chief Deputy Matt Trentham said that the department received “pandemic kits” about three years ago. He said those kits include hand sanitizer, N95 respirators and latex gloves. He said deputies also have sanitizer spray to clean any equipment as necessary.

Orangeburg County Sheriff Leroy Ravenell said, “We know that it’s a scare for our community, our state and our country.”

He said that operations continue as usual and additional deputies are patrolling.

“We don’t want anyone to think that because of the virus and what’s going on in our communities that we have less deputies on the road patrolling -- that’s not the case,” he said.

“We also ask that you listen to federal, state and local agencies as it relates to sanitizing your home, your cars and to continuously, continuously wash your hands,” he said.

“I will also ask you, as a community, to continue to pray. From this sheriff’s office, we believe in prayer,” he said.

Ravenell also noted the following:

  • There are certain areas that will be patrolled 24/7.  However, those locations are not being disclosed -- those locations are up to the criminal element to identify.
  • OCSO vehicles and facilities are being sanitized.
  • There is limited contact with residents who make a call for service.
  • Fingerprinting, which normally takes place on Wednesdays, is suspended until further notice.
  • Individuals may still make incident reports at the sheriff’s office on Ellis Avenue, however, to limit exposure for employees and residents, the report will be made in the lobby or in private outdoors.
  • Access to the front lobby will be restricted to one customer at a time and a deputy will be stationed at the entrance to direct customers.
  • A switchboard operator, a desk sergeant and a records clerk will operate through glassed windows when possible and with appropriate personal protective and sanitation equipment.

At the Victim’s Services Building at 1032 Chestnut St. are the following changes:

  • Day-to-day operations will be shifted to headquarters at 1520 Ellis Avenue, as much as possible.
  • Issuance of non-ferrous metal permits is suspended, until further notice.
  • All sex-offender registrations will be conducted by investigators at the offender’s home.
  • Victim’s advocates will continue to offer round-the-clock services, but will operate on a staggered schedule when possible to minimize the frequency of face-to-face contact.

Orangeburg Department of Public Safety Director Mike Adams said, “We’re certainly going to do everything we can to be prepared should things heat up in our area, so to speak.”

“Every officer, when they report to work, goes through a screening just to make sure all of our staff is well. They’re asked a series of questions about how they’re feeling and asked if they’ve come in contact with anyone who’s not feeling well,” Adams said.

Adams said ODPS employees are also undergoing daily temperature checks.

Visitors to the building will undergo screenings and digital temperature checks before they’re allowed to meet with employees or officers, Adams said.

Currently, the lobby remains closed.

He noted he, officers and employees are constantly decontaminating the building and patrol vehicles.

Adams explained that officers have modified their responses to non-emergency calls.

“If we have calls that we can handle over the phone, then we’re going to try to do that,” Adams said.

Adams said for emergency and “in progress” calls, officers will respond as usual.

He also noted, “When possible, officers will be giving summonses, but not in crimes of violence. We will make arrests if the action warrants an arrest.”

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Other changes at ODPS include:

  • Municipal court proceedings have been canceled and will be rescheduled. Letters will be mailed with new court dates and times. Court payments will still be accepted online, via mail and by phone. No payments will be accepted in person.
  • Daily bond hearings will be held as normal. The only people allowed in the courtroom for bond hearings will be defendants, attorneys, law enforcement and court staff.
  • Fingerprinting services are suspended.
  • Public Safety firefighters responding to calls will only respond to calls that are deemed to be urgent or emergencies Firefighters will take precautionary measures to protect themselves from the public.
  • Public Safety employees will use social distancing guidelines in determining whether any in-person discussion, meeting or material hand-off is necessary and will schedule as appropriate.
  • Public Safety employees will use social distancing guidelines in determining whether any in-person discussion, meeting or material hand-off is necessary and will schedule as appropriate.
  • Public Safety personnel reserve the right to screen any and all persons they may contact with, including, but not limited to, basic wellness questions and temperature screening.

Contact the writer: mbrown@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5545. Follow on Twitter: @MRBrownTandD.

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