Lawsuit: Riverside County misspent COVID-19 relief funds

A lawsuit alleges the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department misspent more than $4.6 million in federal coronavirus relief funding on flooring, office furniture, door keypads, cameras and bulletproof windows — upgrades that authorities contend were legitimate to reduce the risk of viral infection.

The complaint filed Friday by the American Civil Liberties Union and several local organizations argued the expenditures had nothing to do with the county’s response to the public health emergency caused by COVID-19 and asks the federal government to recover the money.

County spokeswoman Brooke Federico told the Riverside Press-Enterprise the upgrades "ensured appropriate physical distancing and safety, while reducing contact and decreasing the risk of transmission within congregate inmate settings and among essential personnel."

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Sheriff Chad Bianco said the complaints were frivolous and said the county properly followed federal government guidelines for using funding from the CARES Act.

Sheriff’s officials have told county leaders the cameras would help deputies interact with the public in case stations have to close during a lockdown. The keypads were necessary, an undersheriff said, because deputies at the jail pass through the door "hundreds of times a day, with inmates, without inmates, contaminating other people."

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Money was also needed to replace surfaces in jail and coroner’s facilities that are highly susceptible to bacterial viral infection, they said.

The lawsuit countered that swiping a key card, or installing bulletproof glass at sheriff facilities doesn’t reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

"Additionally, installing an upgraded camera system does nothing to minimize office staff’s exposure to sick staff or visitors," the complaint said.

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