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In Bail Decision, Judge Finds Prisons' Pandemic Response Sufficient

A video conference screen featuring a judge wearing a cloth mask
Emily Corwin
Judge John Treadwell denied bail to Vermont inmate Frank Sanville, 73, who had argued his age made him vulnerable to COVID-19.

A judge has denied bail to Frank Sanville, 73, a man accused of murdering his wife. Sanville had argued his age made him vulnerable to COVID-19, and cited the pandemic in asking to await trial at home.

In an unusual move, the court consolidated his case with dozens of bail requests citing COVID-19, which left states’ attorneys responsible for showing that Vermont prisons' COVID-19 response was sufficient, a role they reluctantly took on.

The subsequent hearing in Windham County took three days and consisted primarily of testimony regarding the prison’s ability to protect inmates during the pandemic. The parties clashed over the prisons' execution of their protocols; the prisons' medical director’s threshold for transferring inmates to a hospital; and that medical director's reluctance to offer inmates fever-reducing medications.

In his decision, Judge John Treadwell concluded that the increased risk associated with COVID-19 and the prison’s response did not constitute the “medical indifference” necessary for the court to grant Sanville bail:

"The possibility that Defendant may contract COVID-19 in the facility does not constitute medical indifference. The record reflects the substantial steps the Department and its contracted healthcare provider have taken to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 infections occurring and to appropriately respond to COVID-19 positive or symptomatic patients. These steps are not medical indifference. Defendant has not established that his substantive due process rights have been violated through medical indifference."

It’s unclear how much this decision may reduce other inmates’ chances of receiving bail because of the pandemic. In an order consolidating similar cases from Washington County, Judge Mary Morrissey writes:

“Following a decision being made in the Windham County case, this Court will consider next steps in the cases in which that issue is still relevant to the cases cited above.”

In a similar order from Lamoille County, Judge John Pacht writes:

“The court… may very well rely on the opinion generated from that hearing in considering the constitutional claims raised by the pretrial detainees in the above-counties.”

“I literally have no idea what it might mean for other cases,” said Emily Tredeau, supervising attorney for the state's Prisoner’s Rights Office, and Sanville’s attorney. “I still don’t know if the decision to consolidate the cases would stand up to a challenge.”

Tredeau said her client, Frank Sanville, had not yet decided whether to appeal his bail denial.

David Gartenstein, Windham County Assistant State’s Attorney, declined to discuss the decision.

Emily Corwin reported investigative stories for VPR until August 2020. In 2019, Emily was part of a two-newsroom team which revealed that patterns of inadequate care at Vermont's eldercare facilities had led to indignities, injuries, and deaths. The consequent series, "Worse for Care," won a national Edward R. Murrow award for investigative reporting, and placed second for a 2019 IRE Award. Her work editing VPR's podcast JOLTED, about an averted school shooting, and reporting NHPR's podcast Supervision, about one man's transition home from prison, made her a finalist for a Livingston Award in 2019 and 2020. Emily was also a regular reporter and producer on Brave Little State, helping the podcast earn a National Edward R. Murrow Award for its work in 2020. When she's not working, she enjoys cross country skiing and biking.
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