A 43-year-old prisoner who tested positive for the novel coronavirus earlier this month has died of possible complications from COVID-19.
Two other inmates remain hospitalized with the respiratory disease — one in critical condition. All three men were incarcerated at Faribault prison — one of the largest known clusters of infections in the state. More than 200 inmates there have tested positive for the virus in recent weeks, but most are asymptomatic.
Adrian Raymaar Keys, of St. Paul, was transported to an area hospital with difficulty breathing Monday morning and died around 9:45 p.m. Tuesday. Keys reportedly suffered from underlying health conditions such as high blood pressure and asthma, but was described as an extremely fit weightlifter.
Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) officials confirmed his death Thursday, saying they did not immediately announce it because autopsy results are still pending. Keys tested positive for the coronavirus on June 4, during the first wave of infections inside a housing unit. Two weeks later, authorities say his condition began deteriorating while still under administrative quarantine.
“We extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Keys,” Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell said in a statement. “Since the start of the pandemic we’ve worked to take all reasonable steps to minimize the introduction and spread of COVID-19 in the state’s correctional facilities for the well-being of those we serve and our staff.”
Keys’ family could not be reached for comment.
More than 330 state inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, and another 38 are presumed positive based on symptoms. At least 71 DOC employees throughout the agency also self-reported falling ill with the virus, but the vast majority have returned to work.
None of Minnesota’s 11 prisons is equipped with an intensive care unit, and the state agency does not own a ventilator.
Keys was among at least 2,000 state prisoners to apply for conditional medical release since late March, when detention centers showed the first signs of an outbreak behind bars. Since then, county jails moved to release hundreds of nonviolent inmates — especially those held before trial — but state prisons have been slow to follow suit. Around 150 prisoners across the state have been approved for medical release, but only 40 have been formally discharged.
For months, criminal justice advocates have peppered Schnell’s office with phone calls and demonstrated in front of state prisons and the governor’s residence in St. Paul. They see this as a life-or-death issue for individuals with chronic health issues trapped inside historically unhygienic facilities.
“This is criminal. They knew COVID-19 was going to get into our prisons, that without release you couldn’t social distance,” David Boehnke, an organizer with the Twin Cities Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, said in a statement. “They have the authority to release thousands, but instead our Commissioner and Governor are choosing for people to die. They need to release thousands of prisoners who present no risk to the public — now!”
Keys, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the sexual assault of a teenage girl in 2018, was not likely to get approved for early release based on his criminal history. His record also includes felony assault and a second-degree murder conviction for fatally shooting a woman during an armed robbery when he was 17 years old.
Yet advocates argue a significant population reduction and additional safety measures at state prisons could have slowed the virus’ spread. The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota (ACLU) sued the DOC in April to push for the early release of hundreds of nonviolent and medically vulnerable inmates at the highest risk of contracting coronavirus. That case is still pending.
Corrections officials counter that they required the use of cloth masks, installed hand-washing stations and implemented mandatory temperature checks of prison staff, while also lowering the number of detainees by nearly 1,000 since March 1.
Said ACLU staff attorney Dan Shulman: “One death is too many.”