The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) under Attorney General William Barr’s leadership is expanding their use of largely unknown criminal laws in order to clamp down tightly on offenses related to the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
One of those obscure laws is the federal crime of spreading a biological weapons hoax, which actually functions like an amalgamation of two separate federal statutes: the prohibition against spreading false information and hoaxes in 18 U.S.C. § 1038; and the suite of laws related to biological weapons in 18 U.S.C. Chapter 10.
On Wednesday, the DOJ charged 31-year-old James Jamal Curry with perpetrating a biological weapons hoax for allegedly spitting in a police officer’s face and claiming to have contracted the Coronavirus.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Curry was initially arrested over an alleged domestic violence incident in late March.
“During Curry’s arrest, he turned to an officer, declared that he was infected with the Coronavirus, and coughed on the officer’s arm,” a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida alleges.
Curry later posted bail and then allegedly violated a protective order issued by a court on behalf of the alleged domestic violence victim. When officers responded to the second call, Curry allegedly fought with them and resisted arrest, leading to the incident where he allegedly spit in a sergeant’s face.
“He told officers that he was positive for COVID-19 and he intentionally spit on an officer because he was positive,” the arrest report by the St. Petersburg Police Department claims.
Police also say Curry made the following threat against the sergeant: “I know where you live and I am going to come and kill you.”
A DOJ press release elaborated as follows:
The next day, Curry bonded out of the Pinellas County Jail. On the evening of March 28, 2020, police were again called to the same residence where they encountered Curry and arrested him a second time. During his arrest, Curry spit on an arresting officer multiple times—hitting the officer’s face, nose, and inside her mouth with blood-filled saliva. Curry again claimed to have the Coronavirus, laughed, and announced that he was spreading the virus around.
The federal complaint went into explicit detail about the alleged incident.
Officers placed a spit hood on Curry and then removed him from the car, placing him in a prone position on the ground. Curry attempted to flip over and Sergeant P.M. warned him to stop resisting. Curry then looked at Sergeant P .M. and said: “Shut the fuck up bitch. I know where you live…I’m going to kill you!” When asked if he had just threatened Sergeant P.M., he replied: “Just you wait, I’m going to kill you,” repeatedly yelling “Fuck you bitch.” Curry then looked at Sergeant P.M. and said: “I have Corona bitch, and I’m spreading it around.” Curry laughed and repeated that statement.
“Law enforcement officers subsequently obtained and executed a search warrant to test Curry for COVID-19,” the DOJ release notes. “Curry tested negative. Individuals close to Curry and jail personnel reported that Curry had not shown any symptoms of COVID-19.”
The defendant was initially charged with violating pre-trial release, threatening a police officer, violation of state-issued isolation or quarantine orders, criminal mischief and resisting arrest with violence. Then the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Florida Department of Health stepped in.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office specifically alleged:
There is probable cause to believe that Curry engaged in conduct with intent to convey false or misleading information under circumstances where such information may reasonably be believed and where such information indicates that an activity has taken, is taking, or will take place, that would constitute violations of 18 U.S.C. §§ 175(a) and 2332a(a).
The new charges, while describing Curry’s alleged crime as perpetrating a biological weapons hoax, also add a weapons of mass destruction charge.
If convicted, Curry faces five years in prison.
Read the full federal complaint below:
[image via Win McNamee/Getty Images]
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