Suspect claims COVID-19 to evade arrest, now facing charges of terroristic threat

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Shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater, when there is no fire, is considered dangerous speech. And now, saying you have COVID-19 with no records of having it can land you in the penitentiary.

NEW MARTINSVILLE, W.VA. (WTRF) — A suspect in New Martinsville could face jail time after telling officers he had COVID-19 while in custody. This false claim hindered police officials and now the department’s Prosecuting Attorney is pressing charges.

New Martinsville Police arrested a suspect who was fleeing from an officer. A New Martinsville detective says this is the first case they’ve seen where to allegedly evade going to jail, a suspect claimed he had COVID-19.

So, what do you do in this type of situation?

It was just an attempt to not go to jail.

Donnie Harris, Detective for New Martinsville Police Department

With no symptoms, the detective says it appears the suspect made a false complaint.

We had to go through the steps to confirm that this individual actually had COVID-19. He was not tested at one of the hospitals he said he was tested in. We were able to check at that hospital and determine that he was not tested there.

Donnie Harris, Detective for New Martinsville Police Department

Usually someone reporting a false emergency to an officer would face a misdemeanor. But saying you have COVID-19 when not confirmed through testing could land you in the Penitentiary.

Our prosecuting attorney is taking the stance that he will review every case in which something like that happens, and possibly charge them with terroristic threats which is a felony.

Donnie Harris, Detective for New Martinsville Police Department

But what makes saying you have a deadly virus a terrorist threat?

It puts police lives in jeopardy. All who came in contact with the suspect were quarantined, which seriously limits the police force.

It’s very serious because in a situation like that, you’re shutting down law enforcement agencies. We’re already running short staffed, so that made it that much worse.

Donnie Harris, Detective for New Martinsville Police Department

It’s a two-front war. By the time the officer caught wind of the COVID-19 claims and the need to self-quarantine, it’s too close for comfort.

You’re bringing it to your house as well. I live close with my elderly parents, so when I found out, I was actually at their home.

Donnie Harris, Detective for New Martinsville Police Department

Arresting someone means you can’t stay 6 ft. apart, and wiping down the cruiser only goes so far.
But in terms of enforcing the law, New Martinsville Police are straying away from arrests and doing what they can online; like working through email to recieve written statements.

Most people in New Martinsville have been very cooroperative. The ones we had to enforce,
we only gave verbal warnings. So, we’ve had not to arrest anyone or write any citations, or anything like that.

Donnie Harris, Detective for New Martinsville Police Department

The hardest thing right now the Police Department says is making sure that they don’t contaminate somebody with the virus, or be contaminated themselves. And unfortunately, the New Martinsville detective says reports of domestic violence and burglaries have been rising since the start of Stay-At-Home-Orders.

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