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California sheriff fights back against judge's order to release half of Orange County's inmates: 'The public should be in a panic'

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Not backing down

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes (center) attends the Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday. Among the topics of discussion were the sheriff's appeal of a ruling from an Orange County Superior Court judge to release half of the population in the county's jails over coronavirus concerns. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

An Orange County, California, judge ordered the sheriff to release half of the county's jail population in order to protect inmates from the coronavirus during a recent outbreak.

The sheriff responded by taking a stand against the judge's order and declaring that he has no intention of following the decree.

What happened?

Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson ruled Friday that the county must release half of its 3,716 inmates so that convicts can abide by COVID-19 protocols, including properly socially distancing, KCBS-TV reported Monday.

Wilson sided with the American Civil Liberties Union in its lawsuit against the sheriff's office over concerns that Orange County inmates could spread COVID-19 in their "congregated living areas."

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said he has no plans to release another 1,858 known criminals into the general populace and put citizens' safety at risk.

"These aren't low-lying offenders," Barnes told KCBS. "These are people in for very serious offenses, like murder, attempted murder, and domestic violence.

"The public should be in a panic, and they should be concerned about this release," the sheriff added.

Barnes is appealing the judge's order out of concerns for public safety.

About 700 inmates fall into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's classification of "medically vulnerable," KCBS reported.

The sheriff told the outlet that of those 700, "there are 59 of them in for murder, another 39 for attempted murder, 90 of them for child molestation and a litany of other violent crimes."

What did the sheriff do?

Judge Wilson gave Barnes a New Year's Eve deadline to submit a list of inmates who will be released, but Barnes told KCBS he has no intention of following that order. Barnes believes that every inmate in the Orange County jail should remain behind bars, the station reported.

The sheriff put the onus back on Wilson, saying that if the judge wants to put the public at risk, then he will have to come up with his own list.

"If this judge is going to order the release of people entrusted in my care who I believe present a significant threat to the public, he will have to identify each one of those by name and order their release pursuant to his authority, not mine," Barnes said.

KCBS noted that as of Monday there were 416 positive tests in the Orange County Jail.

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