Virus notes: Trump slams state mutineers

Healey tells debt collectors hands-off CARES Act funds

PRESIDENT TRUMP on Tuesday suggested Gov. Charlie Baker and a host of governors from nearby states were mutineers for joining together to plan for the reopening of their economies after the coronavirus pandemic subsides.

Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Rhode Island are joining together in a new council that plans to work on a regional framework to lift the various stay-at-home orders and advisories and reopen the economies.

“We are in a different place, in terms of our surge, than some of those other states are, but I do think it’s important for us to collaborate and cooperate where it makes sense on a go-forward basis, so that we know what they’re doing and they know what we’re doing and neither one of us, none of us, does something unintentionally that disadvantages or damages the others,” he said.

“Tell the Democrat Governors that ‘Mutiny On The Bounty’ was one of my all time favorite movies,” President Trump posted on Twitter Tuesday morning. “A good old fashioned mutiny every now and then is an exciting and invigorating thing to watch, especially when the mutineers need so much from the Captain. Too easy!”

Baker, at a new field hospital on Cape Cod, did not directly answer a reporter’s question about whether he considered himself to be part of a mutiny.

“If you’ve learned nothing else about the Baker-Polito administration over the last five years it’s that we’re a lot more interested in the work that we are in the noise,” he said. “I think for Massachusetts to forge ahead here without presuming that we’re going to have conversations with states that are around us about what they’re up to and what we’re up to, so that we make sure nobody does anything that creates harm unwittingly for somebody else, it would just be a bad idea.”

Baker is the only Republican governor participating in the regional council; the six other states are led by Democrats. A similar pact on the West Coast involves the Democratic governors of California, Oregon, and Washington.

Massachusetts was not included in the initial announcement, but New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said in an afternoon press release on Monday that Baker would join him and other governors in the effort.

Baker on Tuesday said the delay was because the press conference announcing the council conflicted with a conference call he had with Senate President Karen Spilka, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Ways and Means chairmen Rep. Aaron Michlewitz and Sen. Michael Rodrigues, and minority leaders Sen. Bruce Tarr and Rep. Brad Jones. The group normally sits down for an in-person meeting most Monday afternoons, but has lately moved that conversation to the phone to comply with social distancing guidelines.

“Every Monday at two o’clock — we do another one usually on Thursday afternoon as well — and it’s sacrosanct,” Baker said. “I mean, it’s on the calendar. You can’t change it. You’ve got to be there, and now more than ever we want to make sure that we don’t miss those opportunities to talk because we don’t have the same type of down-the-hall opportunity to engage when we’re not on those phone calls.” (STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE)

Healey tells debt collectors hands off

To debt collectors eyeing the cash assistance payments the federal government is giving out, Attorney General Maura Healey’s office is saying hands-off.

Healey issued a guidance on Monday saying emergency funds issued to consumers this week through the Cares Act are exempt from seizure and garnishment by creditors under Massachusetts law.

“These payments are supposed to help individuals and families put food on the table during this crisis, not enrich debt collectors,” Healey said. “With this guidance and letter, my office is putting the debt collection industry on notice that these payments are off limits.”

Those one-time payments, for $1,200 per person and an additional $500 for dependents, will begin to be deposited into bank accounts across the country this week. The Cares Act was signed into law on March 27.

Healey also co-signed onto a multistate letter to the US Department of the Treasury asking the agency to protect CARES Act payments like other government relief programs.

87 prisoners at state prisons test positive

A total of 87 prisoners have tested positive for coronavirus in facilities run by the Massachusetts Department of Correction, according to data released by the agency,

The Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater had 37 cases and MCI-Framingham, a women’s prison, had 26, which is about 10 percent of the inmate population.

The number of corrections staff that have self-reported positive cases is up to 28, while vendor staff, who usually provide medical care at the facilities, are up to 13.

A fourth confirmed inmate death was announced Monday at Massachusetts Treatment Center for a man in his 70s.

The Department of Correction is currently instituting a system-wide lockdown to enforce social distancing recommendations.

On Tuesday, the ACLU of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Public Health Association sent a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker asking him to decrease the number of people who are currently incarcerated in Massachusetts.

“Infections and deaths will disproportionately impact people of color who are overrepresented in jails and prisons,” they wrote. “People of color, particularly Black people, are also disproportionately represented among vulnerable populations with diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, and other conditions with COVID-19 comorbidity.”

Lizz Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, which has been tracking the infections with the ACLU of Massachusetts, said the rising number of infections is not a surprise. She said state prisons are more crowded than county jails.

According to records released by the Supreme Judicial Court through a lawsuit by the ACLU of Massachusetts and other organizations, 255 prisoners and staff had been diagnosed with the virus in county and state jails and prisons.

In that lawsuit, the SJC ruled that many of those being detained before trial in county correctional facilities could be released on personal recognizance, following hearings, in an effort to reduce spread of coronavirus behind bars. The ruling did not apply to anyone serving a sentence following trial.

Hodgson issues warning on released detainees

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson said some of the immigrant detainees a federal judge is releasing from his jail to reduce the potential for COVID-19 spread have either been charged or convicted of serious crimes.

“As of today, more than 30 illegal immigrants in ICE custody have been released from our correctional facilities, some of whom have been charged or convicted of crimes such as rape, robbery, assault, fraud, trafficking fentanyl and others,” Hodgson said in a posting he called a prisoner release alert system. “Some of them also had final removal orders from an immigration judge to be deported to their country of origin, but are instead free to roam the neighborhoods of our communities.”

Hodgson’s alert system was first reported by the Boston Herald.

Forty-three detainees under the jurisdiction of US immigration and Customs Enforcement have been released by US District Court Judge William Young, largely because of concerns that they are being held in close quarters at the North Dartmouth facility. Some of those released had no pending charges or criminal history, and were being detained on civil violations, such as being in the country illegally.

Oren Nimni, a spokesman for Lawyers for Civil Rights, which filed the case before Young on behalf of the detainees, said Hodgson’s statements are misleading and deal with matters under seal with the court.

“The notice serves only to stoke unnecessary fear at a time when communities are coming together,” Nimni said in a statement. “The true public health risk to communities is the sheriff’s continued detention of people in unsafe, unsanitary, and unlawful conditions.”

No inmates or detainees at the Bristol County Jail have tested positive for COVID-19, says the sheriff’s office. Advocates point to Supreme Judicial Court records from last week, which show no tests have been given to the detainees or inmates. The sheriff’s office said six people had been tested prior to that week, but the results came back negative. It is unclear exactly how often tests are given.

Meet the Author

Katie Lannan

State House News Service
Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

On Tuesday, the Sheriff’s office announced a fourth staff member has tested positive for COVID-19. The mental health clinician, his office said, was in the facility on April 8-10 but had extremely limited contact with staff and inmates. All mental health consultations with prisoners are being done with a plexiglass partition separating the inmate and the clinician. Hodgson said the clinician has exhibited no symptoms.

The sheriff’s office has said for two weeks that staff are being screened for high temperatures, and that staff and contractors are wearing masks on site. In the past two days, masks have arrived and been distributed to all inmates and detainees. In-person visitation has been suspended for over a month.