Inmate hearings to be virtual for next two weeks at Peoria County Courthouse after COVID-19 outbreak at jail

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — As of Friday, 34 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Peoria County jail.

This has lead Sheriff Brian Asbell to lock it down.

80 inmates are still waiting for their test results. So far, the jail has had 166 tests completed with a 20 percent positivity rate.

Thanks to technology, this doesn’t completely throw off the schedule at the Peoria County Courthouse, but it has already forced two murder trials to be postponed.

Sheriff Brian Asbell says inmates must remain in their cell 23 hours a day, given one hour for exercise and personal hygiene.

No inmates are allowed to leave the jail, providing some challenges for hearings at the Peoria County Courthouse.

“Obviously this week it had a big impact as we had to postpone two murder trials that were pending this week,” said Peoria County State’s Attorney Jodie Hoos.

Hoos says courthouse officials are working with Sheriff Asbell to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from reaching the courts.

“We are not transporting inmates at the County Jail to the courthouse for the next two weeks. But that’s not to say the cases can’t be handled remotely,” Hoos said.

Remotely, meaning inmates appearing via video call. Something Hoos says has been happening for years in bonding court between the jail and courthouse.

“We had to balance the health and safety of employees in the courthouse, whether that’s clerks, bailiffs, judges, attorneys, as well as the jurors that are here in the courthouse,” Hoos said.

Peoria County Health Administrator Monica Hendrickson said the health department is monitoring the outbreak at the jail.

“Some individuals were symptomatic. Overall, many are asymptomatic. The fact they got tested is when we understood that they were positive,” Hendrickson said.

Chief Judge Paul Gilfillan sent WMBD the following statement.

Jury trials will continue in the courthouse for the time being, just not with any detainee’s from the jail, until it is determined to be reasonably safe to do so.  It is my intent that jurors arriving at the courthouse for jury service be no more at risk from Covid than the general population, such as someone going to the store.  I communicate regularly with the health department on this topic.  We have jurors showing up every week since June.  We give them advance notice of the precautions we are taking for them pre-arrival.  We address their concerns, if any, before arrival.  Upon arrival, we screen them further and the first thing I personally cover with them are the steps we take for them while they are present.  The questions of jurors appearing for jury service are addressed and their concerns to date have been minimal to non-existent.

Paul Gilfillan | Chief Judge of Tenth Judicial Circuit of Illinois

On Thursday, Gilfillan issued the following Administrative Order on how the courts will continue for the next few weeks.

All in custody transfers of detainees from the Peoria County Jail (PCJ) to the Peoria County
Courthouse are temporarily suspended through August 2, 2020, subject to being extended prior
to or thereafter. To the extent the PCJ can accommodate such detainee’s cases/hearings remotely
by video connection, they may continue. Court personnel need to be cognizant of the strain this
will put on the PCJ staff to accommodate more remote hearings, and to the extent remote
hearings cannot be conducted, then the undersigned authorizes the continuance of said cases,
even for trials, with any such trial continuance involving speedy trial computations and statutory
time restrictions to be excluded from speedy trial calculations, which shall be tolled per Sup. Ct.
Order M.R. 30370 and local A.O’s.

Paul Gilfillan | Chief Judge of Tenth Judicial Circuit of Illinois

Any sentence to the PCJ from the date of this A.O. forward shall not include a report date
before September 28, 2020. Any prior (or future) sentence to the PCJ with a report date of
before September 28, 2020, is hereby suspended, with the Peoria County Sheriffs Office (PCSO)
being given authority to provide an alternate report date thereafter to any Defendant, by
delivering a copy of the new report date directly to the detainee (with or without signature of the detainee, but with note of such delivery by PCJ personnel) or by mail sent to the last known
address of the Defendant by the PCSO with note of date of such mailing. All Defendants have
an obligation to notify the PCSO of their current address. Failure to appear for such report dates will be considered a violation of this A.O., punishable accordingly.
3(a). As to Peoria County, with regard to a Body Attachment Warrant located during regular
police activities, Officers may give a Personal Recognizance Bond on that Warrant (if a category
B Offense or Civil Warrant) as you would an offender bonding at your facility. Give a court date
similar to the Notice To Appear (NT A) date schedule provided by the Peoria County States
Attorney’s Office. The bond paperwork must continue to be processed and sent to the
Courthouse.
3(b). Class B is defined (725 ILCS 5/102-7.2 new) as “Category B Offense”, which means a
business offense, petty offense, Class C misdemeanor, Class B misdemeanor, Class A
misdemeanor, Class 3 felony, or Class 4 felony, which is not specified in Category A.

Paul Gilfillan | Chief Judge of Tenth Judicial Circuit of Illinois

Hoos said they will continue to monitor the outbreak at the jail moving forward to see if any additional changes need to be made.

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