Mother, doctor: Parolee wasn’t tested before release
By Scott Loftis
and Samantha Jones
The mother of an Arkansas prison parolee who was arrested last week in Carroll County after reportedly testing positive for COVID-19 says her son was not tested before being released from prison.
Donna Perkins, who identified herself as the mother of Jad Perkins, said her son was not feeling well for three days before he was released on parole from the Arkansas Department of Corrections’ Cummins Unit in Lincoln County on April 20. Donna Perkins said her son was “out and about” in Eureka Springs for two days after being released but began feeling worse and was taken for testing at Washington Regional Medical Center’s drive-through testing site in Eureka Springs.
Donna Perkins said Jad Perkins, 40, was tested on the Wednesday following his release and was notified two days later that he had tested positive. Both of his parents tested negative, Donna Perkins said.
Jad Perkins stayed in a recreational vehicle on his parents’ property, Donna Perkins said.
“He was sick all that week, so he stayed in bed all that week,” she said. “Altogether it was 16 days.”
Jad Perkins’ parole had released him to Tennessee, his mother said, but he came to Carroll County to pick up some clothes and take care of some personal business. After he tested positive, she said, he was barred from going to Tennessee by the Arkansas Department of Health.
Donna Perkins disputed previous published accounts that her son had been looking for yard work to do in Eureka Springs.
“Jad Perkins has never done yard work in his life,” she said.
Jad Perkins was arrested Tuesday, May 12, by officers with the Carroll County probation and parole office for allegedly violating the terms of his parole. He was held for approximately 24 hours in the Carroll County Detention Center before being returned to state custody.
As of Monday afternoon, Donna Perkins said her son was being held in quarantine at the Department of Corrections’ Randall Williams Unit in Pine Bluff.
Jad Perkins, who has a lengthy prison history dating back to 1995, was sentenced in December 2018 to three years in prison with three years suspended and fined $1,000 after pleading guilty to a felony charge of fleeing by vehicle. In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors dismissed a felony count of possessing drug paraphernalia.
• • •
Eureka Springs doctor Dan Bell said he’s known Jad Perkins for a long time and said Perkins has been victimized by a number of circumstances. First, Bell said, Perkins was scheduled to be released in February to Tennessee but officials in Tennessee took two months to agree to the parole plan.
“Everybody thought he needed a new start somewhere else, but that pushed him all the way to April,” Bell said. “If they had released him in February, he would have been ahead of the coronavirus.”
Then when Perkins was released, Bell said, he was asked if he had any symptoms of COVID-19 and had his temperature taken. The DOC policy at the time did not require swab testing, Bell said.
“The system already screwed him up. They ran him late and relied on his word to say he was clear without doing any tests,” Bell said.
When Perkins tested positive for COVID-19, Bell said, he was told to self-quarantine in Carroll County without any oversight besides occasional phone calls from a Washington Regional representative.
“It was not a good lockdown situation,” Bell said. “His family swears he never left the trailer until May 8. The truth of the matter is several folks saw him out in the community between April 30 and May 8.”
It’s a misdemeanor to disobey a health directive, Bell said, so the prosecuting attorney was called. Bell said he’s been calling DOC representatives to get the release policy changed, requiring all inmates to be quarantined two weeks before their release and tested for COVID-19 before leaving the facility.
“That’s the new policy for the DOC,” Bell said. “There’s this idea on testing that you only test people with symptoms. That is totally flawed and this is exactly the reason you can’t do that. This is a high-risk group and you’re getting ready to send them all over the state?”
Bell continued, “You can’t just ask that person if they have symptoms, because they’re not going to tell you the truth. You have to test them. That’s what I recommended.”
Bell said testing hasn’t been taken seriously enough from the very beginning of the virus.
“At this stage, we just have to learn from this and tighten up the policies and mop up the mess with good contact tracing to make sure there’s not unfound contacts out here so we don’t become a hot spot for the virus,” Bell said.
Bell expressed sympathy for Perkins and other released inmates who are trying to get their lives back on track during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s difficult for these folks who are trying to get out of jail, trying to get a job and trying to get back on their feet,” Bell said. “They’re swimming upstream and they’re kind of pariahs when they come out now. With what’s happened with [Perkins], it’s going to get worse for them.”
Eureka Springs Mayor Butch Berry said the lack of testing affects everybody.
“It’s not only our community. It’s everybody’s community,” Berry said. “If they’re letting people out without them being tested … they have to be tested.”
Still, Berry said, just being tested doesn’t ensure anything.
“A person can not have it one day, have a test and show nothing,” Berry said, “and the next day or two, they can be tested and they’ll have it. I think they should still be tested, though, and probably put in some quarantine prior to being released.”
Berry said he hasn’t heard of any new cases of COVID-19 in Carroll County and advised everyone to be safe.
“We have to take care of ourselves. That’s the reason we’re emphasizing that everybody wear your mask, wash your hands, constantly maintain your social distances and do the things we’ve been told to do,” Berry said. “That is the best way to protect ourselves and to protect others.”
• • •
Carroll County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Rogers said Jad Perkins broke his quarantine after testing positive. Perkins was then contacted by probation and parole officers and given a deadline to leave the state.
Later, however, a parole officer saw Perkins in a local convenience store.
“One of the parole officers saw him in Casey’s in Berryville, exhibiting symptoms, coughing,” Rogers said. “I don’t know if he was feverish or not. They went and picked him up.”
Rogers praised local law enforcement, including probation and parole officers and the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office for their role in arresting and holding Perkins.
“I cannot tell you how the sheriff’s office stepped up and took him in while this process shook out and supervised him,” Rogers said. “They did not have to do it. The sheriff is to be commended.”
Rogers particularly cited Major Jerry Williams, the sheriff’s chief deputy.
“The jail staff and all the employees are to be commended for their bravery but I also would like to single out Major Williams,” Rogers said. “He really stepped up to the plate and took charge of the situation and really made this thing work probably as well as it could have. They did not to have admit him to the jail, but they did to protect the people of this county. I think everybody owes them their thanks and gratitude. They took on a dangerous situation.”
Rogers said three probation and parole officers were placed in quarantine after contact with Perkins.
The probation and parole officers who served him and detained this person, we’ve got three of them down in quarantine right now because of exposure,” he said. “They had to really put it on the line. I want to thank all of them who performed a very valuable service. They were the ones who initially went on the front lines. I don’t have the names of the ones who actually went and picked him up, but they deserve our thanks.”
Sheriff Jim Ross said his office took great care to minimize the risk in dealing with potential exposure to COVID-19.
“We didn’t transport him, ever,” Ross said. “The part of the jail that he was kept in is absolutely secluded from all the rest of the jail. It’s been absolutely deep-cleaned and sterilized.”
Williams said he and jail administrator Capt. James Lookingbill worked to limit contact with Perkins to one or two detention officers for each shift and took other steps as well.
“We kept him in a separate wing, isolated from the rest of the jail,” Williams said. “We limited as much contact with him as possible. In fact I think we got away with never actually having to open his cell again because we put him in a cell that literally would provide everything he needed for the 24 hours that he was going to be here. As soon as he left, we not only met the CDC and Department of Health guidelines, we exceeded them. And above and beyond that, according to our new medical services here, they have requested and we have agreed to leave that entire wing, and that entire cell, to be unoccupied and unused for the next nine days.
“We’ll go in there and sanitize it one more time before we put it back into use. And we’re going to continue to monitor our people for anything. But I think we probably got out of this pretty much unscathed.”
Williams said it wasn’t practical for sheriff’s office personnel to be placed in quarantine after contact with Perkins.
“We’re considered essential personnel at a jail and we don’t have that luxury, unfortunately, in law enforcement. We don’t have the luxury of sending everybody home just because somebody might have had it.”
Jail personnel will be monitored for fever or other symptoms, Williams said, and those who display symptoms will be ordered to stay home.
“We are taking every precaution to ensure that, A, we did not come in contact with him in any form or fashion that would transmit it to us,” Williams said. “And as soon as he left here, we did above and beyond to make sure that it’s completely eradicated, again if he had it, and that it will remain empty for nine days. So we’re going to do what we have to do to keep our people safe.”
Previous published reports that several jailers “walked off” the job after Perkins was booked into the detention center were not accurate, according to Ross and Williams
“There were four officers who believed that they had the option not to be here, and so they chose not to come in,” Williams said.
Those four detention officers were advised that they were expected to report for duty, Williams said, and three of them did so.
“One of them said he no longer felt like he wanted to work in a law enforcement environment where the possibility of being put in danger, by COVID or whatever, was a risk he was willing to subject himself to,” Williams said. “There is danger in what we do every day.”
• • •
State officials offered conflicting statements on whether Perkins was tested for COVID-19 before being released on parole.
At a news conference on Thursday, May 14, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he believed that all inmates released on parole from state prison were being tested for the virus.
“It’s my understanding that we test all inmates before they’re released,” Hutchinson said. “So in this instance it was a negative test, and then subsequently, the inmate tested positive after he was released.”
State health secretary Dr. Nate Smith said officials would be working to identify individuals who may have had contact with Perkins.
“Well aware of the situation, and yes we will be doing aggressive contact tracing and perhaps even some community testing within that community,” Smith said. “So we’re taking that situation very seriously and we will do our best to track down all the contacts for this individual. My understanding is that this individual actually tested positive after being released, had previously tested negative. That’s always a possibility, but we’re trying to be very careful with those who are released. It’s not possible to 100 percent prevent something like that. People, even if they’re not in the Cummins Unit, if they choose to go and expose people, even if they know they’re positive, that’s clearly a problem. When we know about that, we’ll issue an order of isolation if necessary, or if someone’s been exposed and they’re not abiding by quarantine, an order of quarantine. But this is a very unfortunate situation, and we’ll do our very best to contact those who have potentially been exposed and to prevent this from happening in the future.”
Solomon Graves, chief of staff for state corrections secretary Wendy Kelly, said via email on Friday, however, that inmates displaying symptoms of COVID-19 are tested before being released.
“Currently, all inmates receive a COVID19 Symptoms Screening immediately prior to their release,” Graves wrote. “That screening includes a temperature check. If an inmate displays symptoms, the Department of Health (ADH) will be contacted regarding testing. If ADH authorizes a test, the release will be delayed pending those results. If negative, the inmate will be released. If positive, the inmate will be released on to parole once they are considered RECOVERED by the Department of Health. For inmates discharging their sentence, we can keep them for 72 additional hours. During that time, we will work with the Department of Health to obtain an Order of Quarantine.”
More than 900 prisoners at the Cummins Unit have tested positive for COVID-19 — although state officials say most of them are asymptomatic — and eight have died.
As of Monday afternoon, the state Department of Health website indicated there were five cases of COVID-19 in Carroll County, all listed as recoveries. Last week, the website had listed six cases in the county.