Suspect who claimed COVID-19 allegedly to evade arrest could face terroristic threat charge

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NEW MARTINSVILLE, W.VA. (WTRF) — A suspect in West Virginia could face jail time after telling officers he had COVID-19 while in custody, police say.

New Martinsville police arrested a man who was fleeing an officer. A New Martinsville detective says this is the first case they’ve seen in which a suspect made such a claim.

“It was just an attempt to not go to jail,” said Donnie Harris, a detective for the 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,” said Harris.

Usually, someone reporting a false emergency to an officer would face a misdemeanor. But making false COVID-19 claims could carry more serious charges.

“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,” said Harris.

Police say that after the claim was made, all who came in contact with the suspect were quarantined, limiting 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,” said Harris, who added, “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.”

Arresting someone means you can’t stay 6 feet apart, and wiping down a cruiser only goes so far. To further minimize the coronavirus risk, New Martinsville police are straying away from some arrests and doing what they can online, such as working through email to receive written statements.

“Most of our people, at least here in New Martinsville, have been very cooperative. The ones that we had to enforce were only given verbal warnings. So, we’ve had not to arrest anyone or write any citations or anything like that,” said Harris.

The police department says the hardest thing right now is making sure that they don’t contaminate somebody with the virus or be contaminated themselves. Harris said that unfortunately, reports of domestic violence and burglaries have been rising since the start of stay-at-home orders.

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