After serving five years in a New York State prison for biting a police officer and wrongfully being convicted for "aggravated assault with a dangerous instrument" because he has HIV, David Plunkett was finally released and walked out a free man on July 19th, 2012.
As you may remember, David's road to freedom was rife with delays and bureaucratic red-tape, largely due to Herkimer County Acting District Attorney Jeffrey Carpenter's unwillingness to drop the charges. In fact, even after the NY Court of Appeals unanimously overturned David's conviction on June 7, 2012, Carpenter claimed he would still push for legislation that would make it a crime to spread HIV/AIDS.
Twenty-one days later, on June 28th, David was still being held behind bars as D.A. Carpenter held a hearing about the case. Even though the judge seconded the Court of Appeals' decision that David was a free man, David still wasn't released, leading to further protests and a massive phone zap action organized by Housing Works.
Forty-two days after the Court of Appeals vacated his conviction, David finally set foot on free ground.
Speaking over the phone this afternoon, David says he has no idea why he was still kept in jail for so long, even after his case had been overturned by the state's highest court. "I kept asking and asking everyday, 'When am I leaving,' because I knew Audrey [his lawyer] was working endlessly to have me released. But all they kept saying was that they couldn't tell me because it was a quote-unquote security issue."
The criminalization of HIV continues throughout the U.S. and the world, though many organizations and advocates are fighting these laws, which are murky at best and whose application precariously pivots on proving such things as intent, maliciousness, and so-called recklessness.
But even after all that he has been through, David sounded upbeat, cheerful even. "You know, Sunny, I'm just happy today. Before all this I used to have a car, a house, and now I don't have any of that, but I'm still happy. I didn't get to see a lot of what happened surrounding the advocacy of my case because I was locked up, but all of the folks at Housing Works and Lambda changed my attitude toward my life and my attitude toward HIV. I really found support in this community and people who really care."
David is currently living upstate in an apartment his friend rented for him since his release. He is just a few credits short of having a Behavioral Sciences degree, and hopes to become an HIV/AIDS and substance abuse counselor, helping others the way that he was helped during his ordeal.
"No one should have to fight the system like I did. I was cleared of the charges but they still delayed and delayed, without cause." Indeed, holding onto a man like that? It's criminal.