I’ve written in the past about the civil liberties problems with the police department in Dearborn, Michigan, mostly in relation to their unconstitutional attempts to squash the free speech of Christian missionaries. But now a Dearborn officer has been caught on tape discriminating against an HIV-positive woman during a routine traffic stop. I was lucky enough to be the editor for Todd Heywood, the reporter who broke the story, for three years. This story is a great example of why he’s such a tremendous reporter.
The officer initially pulled the car over because of a burned-out brake light, but smelled marijuana when he approached the vehicle. There was indeed marijuana in the car, but the passenger in the car had a medical marijuana card through the state of Michigan (which is apparently expired and in the process of being renewed). But the officer didn’t really seem to care much about that. The driver of the car, it turns out, had a warrant out for failing to pay an earlier fine; the officer removed him from the vehicle and put him in the police car in handcuffs. Then he asked the girlfriend, who is HIV-positive, to step out of the car so he could search the vehicle.
During the search, he found several medications and asked the woman what they were for:
The fact that the woman did not tell him that she was HIV-positive — there is no legal requirement for such disclosure and it’s extremely unlikely that he could possibly be infected through such casual contact — seemed to really set the guy off. He ends up telling them that he’s only writing them a ticket because she failed to immediately volunteer her health status before ever being asked about it.
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?
LACEY: ‘Cause I want to make sure I put gloves on and all that stuff, OK? What is it?
LACEY: For your HIV? OK?
Lacey told Jones that if suspects don’t disclose diseases they have and whether they are carrying needles, “we’re going to be really mad.”
“I understand that what you have isn’t something I could get, but it makes me nervous … I don’t want to take it home to my family,” Lacey told Jones. “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.”
This is discrimination, plain and simple. The woman didn’t do anything wrong or illegal by not telling him she was HIV-positive. When she was asked about it, she said yes. But based purely on him being mad at her, he decided to write them a ticket for the marijuana (which will almost certainly get thrown out once she has her medical marijuana card up to date).