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Inmate caught COVID after being transferred to Washington County Jail during outbreak, family says

Family members said they're frustrated after Seneca Cayson was transferred from a state prison in southern Oregon

HILLSBORO, Ore. — Family members of a Washington County Jail inmate are frustrated after he was transferred to the jail as it was experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak, then caught the disease. 

Seneca Cayson was transferred to the jail from a state prison in southern Oregon on Jan. 26. It was his 25th birthday. Six days later, he was sick with COVID.

KGW spoke to Cayson's parents Friday outside the county jail, located in Hillsboro. They said their son's case includes a kidnapping conviction involving an estranged girlfriend.

Cayson has served 3.5 years of a 6-year sentence in state prison. He was moved to the Washington County Jail for a court appearance related to lesser charges in his case.  

He entered the jail at the peak of a COVID surge that had 49 inmates and many staff members COVID-positive, according to jail officials. That's about 11% of the total jail population.

Cayson's parents said they have made several complaints about his stay at the jail, where he has remained for more than three weeks. 

Credit: Seneca Cayson

“I know that it’s not just my son but it’s many peoples’ sons and daughters in these places that are getting punishment on top of punishment,” said his father, Seneca Cayson, Sr.

His mother said she visited her son at the jail on Wednesday.

“His face is sunken in, he looks ill and he hasn't had a shower. He's had three showers in 26 days and not one shower since he's been out of quarantine,” said Erica Gibson-Pitts. 

One of the managers at the jail, Lt. Vance Stimler, told KGW staff have worked hard to manage COVID at the jail, and that showers are offered on a regular basis.

“Our general policy is that you have an opportunity to shower every day; if you have COVID, it's twice a week. Once you're post-COVID, you'll be back to every day again,” said Stimler.

Still, Cayson's family is concerned about his living conditions and said this all could have been avoided if he could have made a video appearance from state prison.

“It makes no sense. The jail already knew they were in the middle of an outbreak. They're bringing people in who don't need to be here,” his mother said. 

Lt. Stimler noted that jails do not decide who come to their facilities. In this case, a court order brought Cayson back to the jail. 

Stimler added that Washington County judges prefer to have in-person appearances when possible. In Cayson’s case, despite being moved back to county jail, he had a video appearance anyway because of COVID.

The family has a website dedicated to his case and an appeal effort, which has been delayed because of pandemic-related court backlogs. 

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