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Thursday, 27 August 2009

US: Miami man gets 15 years in prison for biting cop

A 35 year-old man with mental health issues, and characterised as a "drifter", has been sentenced to 15 years in prison "for threatening to kill with his illness then biting a Miami cop."

If this case doesn't exemplify HIV-related ignorance and stigma amongst law enforcement and the judiciary, I don't know what does.

According to the report from the Miami Herald, Johnson Jamerson

a former furniture delivery man who suffers from schizophrenia, was arrested in January 2008 for trespassing after he was found sleeping under the Interstate 395 bridge at North Miami Avenue. On a police bus later, Jamerson slipped out of his handcuffs. [Officer Matthew] Hall grappled with him. Wile struggling on the ground, Jamerson yelled out that he had HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, threatened to kill Hall and then sank his teeth into the officer's right shin...He bit through Hall's pants, drew blood and caused a permanent bruise.

Originally charged with attempted murder, a jury found him guilty of the lesser charge of aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer in June.

Circuit Judge Daryl E. Trawick was told by Miami-Dade prosecutor Ankur Sevak that although Officer Hall was not infected,

doctors did not clear him for eight anxious months. "He could not have any contact with his wife or children for fear he could severely affect them."

Obviously, the cop experienced a tremendous (and unnecessary - as you will see below) amout of mental and emotional suffering, reflected in the sentence, but how much of this suffering is Mr Jamerson's fault?

As I have written in a previous blog post about the police overreacting to the risk of HIV transmission from a bite, the risk of transmission is so low that PEP is not really warranted - and it certainly has never been proven to reduce the risk of transmission in such cases. The fact that the cop was worried enough to take PEP is not Mr Jamerson's fault.

In addition it should not have taken eight months from the incident for the cop to have been considered to be definitely HIV-negative - a viral load test (PCR testing) could have figured that out within a few weeks. Again, that is not Mr Jamerson's fault.

And as for the cop not having "any contact" with his wife or children - surely he was counselled that he could not transmit HIV casually. But then, if he believes he can get HIV from a bite, I guess he probably thinks he could pass it on via sharing cutlery or a toilet seat, just like 5% and 4% respectively of the UK public surveyed in 2004.

Once again, that is not Mr Jamerson's fault.

Then again, it seems Miami police doctors appear to give PEP for three-times longer than any study has ever found it to be necessary.

"For three months afterward, I had to take a cocktail of medication three times a day, causing diarrhea, vomiting, nausea -- everything you can think of,'' Hall, a Coconut Grove patrolman, said after the sentencing.

What is strange is that, if he is telling the truth about his experience of PEP, he appeared to be following guidelines to take drugs that are way out-of-date: no HIV regimen needs to be taken three times day.

However, it seems that the US Centers for Disease Control's PEP guidelines were last updated in 2005 and the currently recommended PEP regimen for basic 2-drug PEP is Combivir (AZT and 3TC in a single pill, taken twice a day) for 28 days.

Amazingly, the guidelines still include an option to take the drugs separately, and for AZT to be given three times a day. This is ridiculous and totally unnecessary. So, perhaps I can't blame it all on the ignorance of the police and judiciary: the CDC need to update their PEP guidelines to prevent unncessary suffering. And by unnecessary suffering, I'm talking about Mr Jamerson as well as Officer Hall.


Anonymous said...

Okay, this sounds like self-defense to me. It wouldn't have happened if Jammerson had simply been left alone.


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