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Police Video Prompts Allegations of HIV Discrimination

September 19, 2012

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Lansing, Mich. -- A Dearborn, Mich., police officer was caught on tape telling a man and a woman that he was issuing them traffic and marijuana possession tickets because he was "aggravated" that the woman failed to disclose her HIV-positive status before he searched the couple's car. The incident has raised allegations of discrimination and violations of civil rights.

The police dashboard video, obtained by the American Independent through a Michigan Freedom of Information Act request, shows what should have been a routine traffic stop last month. During the traffic stop, the officer discovered the woman is HIV-positive when he allegedly found her HIV medications and asked her, "What are these?"



Advocates for those living with HIV say the type of incident the video portrays has a wide-ranging impact on the personal well being of people with HIV. They say that these types of incidents could have adverse public health impacts, discouraging HIV patients from taking their medications as prescribed and, therefore, potentially facilitating the development of drug-resistant strains of the disease.

The video shows Dearborn Police Officer David Lacey telling Shalandra Jones that she should disclose her HIV-positive status whenever a police officer asks her to step out of a vehicle. He said he was "pissed" that Lacey hadn't disclosed her status before he searched the vehicle, and he told the couple: "Honestly, if it wasn't for that, I don't think I would have wrote anybody for anything. But that kind of really aggravated me, you know what I mean? You got to tell me right away, 'I've got this. I've got that.' 'Cause at that time, I wasn't wearing any gloves."

Legal experts say there is no legal obligation in Michigan for a person with HIV to disclose his or her status to a police officer.

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Lacey made repeated statements expressing his fear of being infected with HIV or other diseases after coming in contact with the woman's earrings, which were in her purse, during a routine search of the couple's vehicle. At other points, however, he seemed to say that he understood that he was not ask risk for contracting HIV. He expressed concerns about the possibility of being exposed to contaminated needles in the course of his search, but he did not find any needles in the vehicle. He also said he was worried about taking diseases home to his family.

While some medical experts say it is reasonable for the officer to be concerned about -- and take precautions to prevent -- exposure to diseases, there was little actual risk that he could contract HIV in this particular encounter.

The Michigan Department of Community Health and the Center for Disease Control both say HIV is not transmitted through casual contact, such as sharing drinking glasses or touching items worn by people with HIV. Both agencies say the virus is usually transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse or needle sharing with an infected individual.

HIV can also be transmitted through accidental sticks from a needle contaminated with infected blood. Still, experts told TAI that the risk of HIV transmission from the Dearborn incident was very low and that there are no known cases outside of the health care setting in which HIV has been transmitted through an accidental needle stick.


No License and the Marijuana

Some of the statements made in the 29-minute video are inaudible because either the occupants of the car are too far away from the microphone, or police radio traffic drowns out the conversation.

On August 3, Lacey pulled the couple over in a 1999 GMC Jimmy because he notices a burnt out brake light. In his initial contact with the couple, Mark Scott, who was driving, told the officer he does not have a driver's license with him and may have a warrant for his arrest related to a traffic ticket. The officer asked Scott for another piece of identification, which Scott provided him.

The officer then stated, "Where's the weed at? I can smell it pretty strong from right here."

Scott said something, which is inaudible, and Lacey responded, "It smells like you guys were smoking it."

Both Scott and the passenger, Shalandra Jones, denied they had been smoking marijuana. (Scott later appeared to admit to have smoked marijuana earlier in the day.)

"I'm not worried about a little bag of weed or something like that," Lacey said. "If you've got a dime bag, please let me know."

Jones then admitted that there was marijuana in the car and handed it over to Lacey.

Later, Jones admitted the marijuana was hers and said that she is a registered medical marijuana patient in the state of Michigan. After Lacey asked her why she didn't say anything about that, she said she was nervous and thought the card might be expired. Jones' attorney has since confirmed to TAI that the card was indeed expired and that they are working to renew it.

Later during the stop, Lacey referred to the medical marijuana program "a scam."

Michigan law specifically lists HIV infection and AIDS as qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The drug is used to treat various side effects of the infection and antiretroviral treatment -- such as nausea, weight loss, and various pain issues. A recent study from Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York also found the drug may interfere with the virus' ability to infect specific immune blood cells the virus uses to reproduce.

Lacey removed Scott and placed him in handcuffs in the back of his patrol car. As he did this, he explained he had pulled the couple over because of an inoperative brake light.

"I couldn't even see who was in the car," added Lacey. "I just rolled up and saw the brake light out, and I thought, 'Well, you know, what? I'm kind of bored.' So -- might as well -- it's worth a stop."

During a search for warrants for Scott, Lacey discovered Scott was wanted by neighboring Allen Park on an outstanding ticket for failure to provide proof of insurance. The computer system showed Scott owed $169 for the ticket.


"What Are These Ones?"

After checking out Scott, Lacey returned to the Jimmy and asked Jones to step out of the vehicle. This interaction took place out of camera frame, but the audio was captured on the recording.

Unlike his interaction with Scott, Lacey asked Jones if she had "anything that'll poke you or stab you on your person." Jones replied in the negative.

He directed Jones to sit on the front bumper of his patrol car while he searched the vehicle.

Then, apparently after finding Jones' HIV medication, Lacey addressed Jones:

LACEY: Hey, Shalandra, what are these ones?
JONES: I'm HIV positive.
LACEY: OK, that's (inaudible) probably something you want to tell me when you get out of the car, OK? If you ever get pulled out for any reason, you want to tell us, OK?
JONES: Alright.
LACEY: 'Cause I want to make sure I put gloves on and all that stuff, OK? What is it?
JONES: [inaudible]
LACEY: For your HIV? OK?

Jones' attorney, Joshua Moore of Detroit Legal Services, told TAI Lacey was holding Jones' HIV medications during the exchange.

Lacey later stated that he was "aggravated" and "pissed" that Jones did not proactively disclose her status. The officer put on his leather gloves and completed the search of the vehicle.

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This article was provided by The American Independent.
 
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