HICKMAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — First responders have a lot to worry about with COVID-19.
Most of that concern, centers around accidental contamination. New reports are emerging in other parts of the country where some suspects are using the virus as a possible threat against law enforcement to keep from going to jail.
Sergeant Mike Doddo is a Hickman County Sheriff’s Deputy whose agency has experienced this first-hand.
“It’s a scary time for all first responders out there,” Doddo said.
Weeks ago, at the start of the coronavirus scare, Doddo said a woman coming into the jail deliberately threatened staff, claiming she had the virus.
Doddo said, “A female was booked into the jail, began coughing, claiming she had the corona virus, the jail took appropriate steps, isolated her, cleaned the area, she was sent for testing and came back negative.”
Doddo said the woman did it deliberately to scare jail and sheriff’s staff.
“Yes, I believe people think if they threaten they have the coronavirus, they’ll be released. In actuality, they won’t be. They will be isolated, tested and isolated until tests come back negative or positive.”
Around the same time, agents with the 23rd Judicial Task Force pulled over a suspect who began coughing stridently.
Agents said this was intentional and meant to dissuade agents from pursuing any further investigation.
Nick Oberheiden is a federal attorney who has worked several cases in Nashville in Federal Court.
The Dallas based attorney said he has heard of similar instances in Los Angeles, New York, Dallas and the Pacific Northwest.
Oberheiden said threatening an officer with the coronavirus could result in assault charges or making terroristic threats, in extreme cases.
“I have seen cases in a number of states where these scenarios occurred where someone used coronavirus as a last line of defense, to say don’t arrest me or you will get sick. And you as a suspect or defendant need to be careful. This is not a recognized legal defense. Any suspect needs to understand that everything they say could be used against them in court, and that includes if they make a false statement and misrepresent you have coronavirus and you don’t. This is something that law enforcement and prosecutors can consider as a terrorist threat. Some counties have brought these type of cases.”
Doddo added, “You prepare for you day with hand sanitizer and masks and you try to keep your distance if and if I have to get close to them then I have to do my job.”
To criminals who would consider coughing or spitting on a law enforcement officer, Doddo has this admonition.
“You will still go to jail and face more charges so it is not worth it.”
News 2 talked to a local prosecutor, who said if it can be proven that a suspect coughed on a law enforcement officer claiming to have coronavirus, the charges could be enhanced to something more serious like reckless endangerment.
Stay with News 2 for continuing coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic.