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[Update] Canada: Charges against man charged with aggravated sexual assault in British Columbia for alleged HIV non-disclosure could be dropped due to his undetectable viral load

Charges against man accused of keeping HIV status from 12 women could be dropped
April 25, 2018

Charges against man accused of keeping HIV status from 12 women could be dropped

Charges against a Fraser Valley man that was the subject of a major police warning when he was accused of failing to disclose his HIV status to a dozen sexual partners appear to be on shaky ground.

CTV News has learned that multiple women connected to the case have been told legal rules have shifted with advances in HIV treatment, and that Brian Carlisle’s 12 counts of aggravated sexual assault could be doomed.

“It was utterly terrifying—utterly terrifying,” one woman told CTV News, recalling when she found out Carlisle was HIV-positive, and how she worried she had contracted the disease.

“I want the public to put themselves in my shoes,” she said. “How would you feel if this happened to you? Would you want them to get away with it? I wouldn’t wish what happened to me on anybody.”

A spokesperson for Crown prosecutors said the charges against Carlisle had not been stayed, but that lawyers are “currently in the process of reviewing the available evidence to determine whether our charge assessment standard continues to be met.”

Carlisle, a marijuana activist who lives in Abbotsford, used the website Plenty of Fish to meet women. One of them found out he was HIV-positive and called police, who put out a public warning last year. A total of 12 women came forward.

In an interview with CTV News, Carlisle admitted having unprotected sex, but said he believed that he wasn’t contagious as he was undergoing treatment.

“There’s no way. My viral load has never been detectable,” he said.

None of the disclosure from the Crown has indicated any women actually became infected, Carlisle said. A report by his doctor prepared for the court says he has been taking his medication consistently for years and the chance of transmission is “virtually zero.”

That’s a significant finding because prosecutors must prove either there was a transmission or a realistic chance of transmission in order to make their case, said UBC law professor Janine Benedet.

“There’s no question that being deceived is a terrible place to be in,” Benedet said, “but it may not be that, the way the law stands now, the law of sexual assault is a very good fit for what has been done to them.”

Unprotected sex with someone who is HIV-positive used to mean a realistic chance of infection. But advances in HIV treatment have shown that someone with an undetectable viral load has virtually no chance of infecting anyone.

“A person that is adequately treated for his HIV infection does not transmit the virus,” said Dr. Julio Montaner of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV and AIDS.

It’s responsible to disclose your HIV status in most situations, Montaner said. But if someone is being treated and there is no realistic chance of transmission, it shouldn’t be up to the criminal system to punish people who don’t disclose, he said.

“I welcome disclosure and many things that could inform his willingness or her willingness or their willingness to engage in a sexual act. But if there is no risk this is not a mandatory disclosure,” he said.


Published in CTV News Vancouver on April 25, 2018


Man accused of keeping HIV status from partners facing 9 new charges

A man accused of keeping his HIV status from sex partners is facing nine new charges, and police believe there may be more potential victims.

Mounties in Mission, B.C. were first made aware of Brian Carlisle in July, when they received a report that a man had been having unprotected sex without disclosing that he is HIV-positive.

Carslile, a 48-year-old Abbotsford resident, was charged the following month with three counts of aggravated sexual assault. While the charges have not been proven in court, police made the rare decision to release his HIV status because of the potential that others may have contracted the virus.

The decision was made after careful consideration, Mounties said, and because they felt “the public interest clearly outweighs the invasion of Mr. Carlisle’s privacy.”

A number of new complaints came forward following the announcement of the charges, Mission RCMP said Thursday. As a result, Carlisle is now facing an additional nine charges of aggravated sexual assault.

The investigation is ongoing, and police said they are concerned there may be additional potential victims who are not yet aware of the potential change in their HIV status.

Anyone concerned they may have HIV is encouraged to visit their doctor for appropriate testing, and those with more information on the case are asked to contact a dedicated tip line at 604-814-1644. Tips can also be left anonymously at 1-888-222-8477 (TIPS).

Carlisle is Caucasian, weighs about 220 pounds and is 6-foot-2. He has blue eyes and short brown hair.

The offences are alleged to have occurred in several cities in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, including Mission, Abbotsford, Coquitlam and Burnaby, but Carlisle has been known to live outside the province. He has spent time in Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Vermont.

He has an online presence on several social media and dating sites, police said previously. Carlisle has been ordered by the court to stay away from online dating sites, including Plenty of Fish, pending his trial.

He’s posted several videos on a YouTube account, including one that shows a forceful argument he made during a project for a criminology class in 2012 at the University of the Fraser Valley: that people with HIV should not have to disclose their disease to sexual partners.

He argued that because medical treatment has progressed to the point that someone living with HIV may have his or her viral load suppressed to the point they are not contagious, it’s time to change the law.

Carlisle infected his wife with the disease 15 years ago, court records say. The records stem from a lawsuit he filed against his doctors for failing to diagnose him.

He’s spoken publicly about his HIV status in media interviews during his years as a marijuana advocate and during a failed run for mayor of Chilliwack. He also ran for school trustee in that city, and for city council in Hope.


Published on Sept. 7, 2017 on CTV News Vancouver


Man accused of keeping HIV status from sex partners likened disclosure rules to ‘witch hunt’

The man charged with failing to disclose his HIV status to three sexual partners infected his own wife with the disease 15 years ago, court records say.

And Brian Carlisle reacted first by suing his doctors for failing to diagnose him – a lawsuit he lost – and then told the public he was HIV-positive through media interviews during his years as a marijuana advocate and during a failed run for mayor of Chilliwack.

He has posted at least a dozen videos of him doing marital artsworking out and playing the violin. One video he posted shows a forceful argument he made during a project for a criminology class in 2012 at the University of the Fraser Valley: that people with HIV should not have to disclose their disease to sexual partners.

Now is the time, I believe, for scientific methodology to evolve our laws and end this present day, I hate to say, witch hunt,” Carlisle says in a video posted to YouTube.

Five years later, the 48-year-old stands accused of three counts of aggravated sexual assault for just that. And since Mission RCMP announced the charges on Thursday, “several” more women have come forward, said Const. James Mason.

“The ongoing investigation has identified several other alleged victims which we believe that Mr. Carlisle could have offended against,” he said.

Several women told CTV News they had been contacted by Carlisle on the dating website Plenty of Fish in the past year. Carlisle has been ordered by the court to stay away from online dating sites, including Plenty of Fish, pending his trial.

Carlisle was released on $5,000 bail Thursday. He couldn’t be found at his Abbotsford home on Friday, and didn’t respond to calls or emails. A man who lived in a trailer next to the home told CTV News that Carlisle was “a nice guy, a reasonable guy.”

A former roommate painted a picture of a smart person who was tortured by the disease.

“Brian is very intelligent. He could have been one of the best lawyers I’ve ever met,” said his former roommate and fellow marijuana activist Tim Felger.

Court documents suggest that Carlisle was infected with HIV sometime in the late 1990s. Felger said when the two were living together in the early 2000s, Carlisle said he didn’t know.

“He suspected it for a couple years, and then he finally goes to the doctor and gets it confirmed,” he said.

That was on July 18, 2002. A day later, his wife was also diagnosed, a civil judgment says, quoting a physician’s report.

“[Carlisle’s wife] almost certainly acquired HIV infection on the basis of unprotected sex with her partner Brian Carlisle, sometime between early 2001 and mid-2002,” the judgement says. “Lack of diagnosis of HIV in Brian may well have contributed to her having unprotected sex with him, and therefore increased her risk of HIV.”

Carlisle represented himself in that case, and later started a consulting company that offered to represent others in court for money. Felger blew the whistle on him in that case, where the B.C. Law Society successfully argued for a $500 fine.

“He always thought everything that happened to him was someone else’s fault,” Felger said.

He ran for mayor in Chilliwack in 2002, calling himself “the people’s candidate,” and telling reporters he had HIV.

“Being an extremely ill person is a blessing,” he said at the time. “It gives me focus every day to live it as the most important day. Every relationship, every job I undertake I do with the most extreme fortitude of anything I put my mind to.”

He ran for city council in Hope, and for school trustee in Chilliwack. He lost in those and other municipal races. A grow-op that he operated with Felger was raided and its pot seized. Years later he claimed in a court case he was broke and on a disability pension.

In 2012, while attending the University of the Fraser Valley, he argued that because medical treatment has progressed to the point that someone living with HIV may have his or her viral load suppressed to the point they are not contagious, it’s time to change the law.

A year later, he volunteered for his professor Darryl Plecas’s winning campaign for MLA. An online CV shows that Carlisle claimed Plecas as a reference.

“I’m disappointed that he’s weaving me into his affairs,” said Plecas, who recalled working on a project with him about marijuana but not about HIV. Plecas said there was “nothing special” about his involvement with Carlisle and that he disagreed with the thesis put forward in the project.

“On the face of it that notion is absurd. If someone’s not disclosing he’s putting people at risk,” Plecas said.

Published on August 4, 2017 in CTV News

US: Some states are broadening the scope of criminalisation laws to include viral hepatitis and other infections

Transmitting HIV Is a Crime in Most States. Is HCV Next?
April 24, 2018

Transmitting HIV Is a Crime in Most States. Is HCV Next?

Back when AIDS was dominating the news, 33 states passed laws making it illegal for HIV-infected people to have sex without their partner’s knowledge of the individual’s HIV status. Such laws were based on the idea that their bodily fluids constitute a deadly weapon.

Efforts to repeal or reform these laws have been gaining momentum in recent years, now that HIV infection is no longer considered a fatal disease. But in a surprising twist, some states are now broadening the scope of criminalization laws to include viral hepatitis and other infections, leaving some physicians dismayed and advocates deeply divided on the best path toward reform.

One of those states is Iowa, which in 2014 became one of the first states to repeal and replace its HIV criminalization law. However, the revised law now includes viral hepatitis, tuberculosis, and meningitis.

Earlier this year, South Dakota lawmakers considered a bill that would have created a hepatitis C-specific statute in addition to the state’s existing HIV criminal law.

“Fortunately, this portion of the [South Dakota] bill failed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more efforts of this kind, especially in states that are being hard hit by the opioid crisis,” says Kate Boulton, JD, MPH, and staff attorney at The Center for HIV Law & Policy.

In addition to the 33 states with HIV criminalization laws, at least 12 states now have criminal laws specific to hepatitis, Boulton said. The laws vary, with some directly tracking HIV exposure and others limited to interactions with police or prison staff.

Such laws also raise the possibility that physicians will be forced to testify against their patients.

It’s not hypothetical. In 2014, Wendy Armstrong, an HIV specialist in Atlanta, was served a subpoena to testify against her own patient. The patient, who she refers to as ‘Paul’ to protect his privacy, was accused of misleading a former sexual partner about his HIV status — a criminal offense in Georgia punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Armstrong reluctantly testified, confirming that Paul had been aware of his status for a decade. Although Paul claimed he was honest with his partner, who was never infected, he was found guilty. Later, the prosecutor congratulated Armstrong for helping to put a “scumbag” in jail.

“This impacts our patients,” Armstrong said. “And as such it’s our duty to understand — and to make sure our patients understand — what the legal environment they’re in is like.”

That might mean uncomfortable conversations with patients about the jail-time implications of sharing needles or having sex without first disclosing infection status — conversations that might make it even harder to build trust in the physician’s office.

What Happened In Iowa

Iowa’s HIV criminalization law from the 1990s had especially harsh penalties. One man was sentenced to 25 years in prison for theoretically exposing his partner to HIV, despite the fact that he had an undetectable viral load and had used a condom.

By 2010, advocates in Iowa felt the time was right to push for reform, but initially struggled to identify a platform that would be palatable to the state’s conservative lawmakers. The head of Iowa’s Department of Public Health at the time, a Republican and an ophthalmologist named Mariannette Miller-Meeks, MD, supported modernization. Working for her was Randy Mayer, head of the department’s Bureau of HIV, STD, and Hepatitis, who put together a fact sheet with several recommendations.

In his fact sheet, Mayer suggested a more moderate punitive system that reserved harsher punishment only for those who intend to infect others. Mayer’s fact sheet also zeroed in on the idea that focusing on HIV enhances stigma, and suggested that a reformed law could include other infections as well.

Those suggestions ultimately became part of a controversial law passed in 2014.

“I understand about why people were upset about that [because] none of us want the statutes even for HIV,” Mayer says, but “we also felt that repeal wasn’t a reasonable option, so we made this awful choice.”

Although counterintuitive, Iowa’s new, more comprehensive law may result in fewer prosecutions overall because it’s more difficult to prove someone intended to infect another person, says Allison Nichol, Legal and Policy Counsel at The SERO Project. Ultimately, some reform in Iowa was better than none, Nichol argues.

Not all advocates agree.

“I think it’s problematic,” says Boulton. “We don’t want to be pursuing a reform strategy that relies on naming and criminalizing other health conditions.”

“It’s just bizarre,” says Elizabeth Paukstis, Public Policy Director, National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable. Instead of reducing stigma against HIV, Paukstis argues an expanded law “perpetuates the stigma that’s already out there against people with hepatitis C.”

“While I am entirely in favor of modernizing HIV criminalization laws, it needs to be done correctly,” says Armstrong. “The wrong answer is to broaden the scope of the law to include other diseases…. I personally think it’s a very dangerous direction to go.”

Viral Hepatitis On The Rise

The United States is home to 3.2 million people living with hepatitis C, which kills more people every year than HIV, tuberculosis, and 58 other infectious diseases combined. Acute cases of hepatitis C have more than doubled since 2010, fueled by the opioid addiction crisis.

At least 12 states now criminalize viral hepatitis, meaning gastroenterologists and other clinicians could be compelled to testify against their own patients — though none of the sources interviewed for this story were aware of this happening.

Among states that now criminalize hepatitis, some, such as Tennessee and Mississippi, passed laws that track with existing HIV criminalization laws, says Boulton. Other states, such as Georgia, Pennsylvania and Missouri, passed stand-alone laws that only apply to interactions with police or corrections officers.

“It’s obviously a concern to see that this is being applied to an infection like hepatitis C,” especially because hepatitis C is now curable, says Raymond Chung, MD, Director of Hepatology and the Liver Center at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital. “The real crime, if you will, is that we haven’t been able to detect and refer to care and get into treatment each person who has hepatitis C.”

Because of the high rate of hepatitis C in prisons and its association with injection drug use, patients with hepatitis C are arguably even more marginalized than those with HIV, says Paukstis.

“These folks are in an incredibly vulnerable place, and it’s just not appropriate [to] penalize people for lacking education about the law and lacking education about this disease,” says Armstrong.

Little Awareness Among Clinicians

Armstrong estimates that about one-third of her colleagues who treat HIV infection are aware of criminalization laws, and medical associations such as the HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA) and the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA) continue to spread awareness of HIV criminalization by publishing position papers on this issue.

Meanwhile, the majority of gastroenterologists and liver disease doctors would be “quite shocked” to learn that some states criminalize hepatitis C, said Reau. The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD), does not have an official stance on this issue. Even in Iowa, where the 2014 reform was highly publicized, many physicians may not know about new restrictions.

“I think few HCV clinicians in Iowa are aware or the revised law regarding criminalization of hepatitis C transmission,” says Michael Ohl, MD, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Iowa. “My sense is that this conversation does not often come up with patients.”

“Any doctors who are treating hep C patients [should] be concerned,” says Paukstis. “There’s no scientific basis for these laws, and it’s something that can be used to discriminate and punish their patients.”

“I think it would be helpful for as many people involved in infectious disease and infection control be aware so they can counter ill advised laws from being enacted,” says Michael S. Saag, MD, past president of HIVMA and director of AIDS Research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“In this way, they could also pivot the desire from legislators to ‘do something’ to having them do something that’s much more positive and effective,” Saag says.

When asked how these new laws might impact the doctor-patient relationship, Saag said the laws “could place the provider in conflict with the interest of patients.” But Saag, who treats patients with HIV and has known about HIV-specific criminalization laws for years, says the law should never get in the way of delivering good care.

“I never think about that when I’m taking care of a patient,” Saag says. “I’m always advocating for their best interest, and that means controlling the infection.”


Published in News Health on April 20, 2018

[Update]UK: Life sentence for 26 year-old man convicted of grievous bodily harm with intent for HIV transmission and exposure

Man jailed for life after deliberately infecting others with HIV
April 18, 2018

Man jailed for life after deliberately infecting others with HIV

Daryll Rowe tried to infect 10 men, five of whom went on to test positive for the virus

A hairdresser has been handed a life sentence with a minimum term of 12 years at Brighton crown court after deliberately trying to infect 10 men with HIV.

Daryll Rowe, 27, from Brighton, showed no emotion as he was sentenced for five charges of causing grievous bodily harm with intent and five of attempting to do so.

After being diagnosed in April 2015 in his home city of Edinburgh, Rowe met men on gay dating app Grindr and had sex with eight of them in Brighton, East Sussex, between October that year and February 2016, before fleeing to the north-east where he went on the run from police, targeting two more men.

His six-week trial heard he embarked on a cynical and deliberate campaign to infect men with HIV, refusing treatment and ignoring advice from doctors.

He insisted on having unprotected sex with men, claiming he was “clean”. When they refused, he tampered with condoms, tricking them into thinking he was practising safe sex.

Afterwards Rowe would become aggressive and taunted some of the men in text messages. He repeatedly lied to authorities and would use aliases with his victims.

Judge Christine Henson QC, sentencing, referred to his crimes as a “determined hateful campaign of sly violence”.

“You are the first individual to be sentenced for section 18 offences in the context of infecting others with HIV,” she said.

“With the full knowledge of the risk you posed to others and the legal implications of engaging in risky sexual practices, you embarked on a deliberate campaign to infect other men with the HIV virus.

“Unfortunately for five of the men you met your campaign was successful.”

The judge added: “They describe living with a life sentence as a result of your cruel and senseless acts. Many of those men were young men in their 20s at the time they had the misfortune to meet you.

“Given the facts of this case and your permissive predatory behaviour I cannot see when you would no longer be a danger to gay men.

“In my judgment the offences, taken together, are so serious, that a life sentence is justified. You will potentially remain a danger to others for the rest of your life.”

Published in the Guardian on April 18, 2018


Hairdresser found guilty of trying to infect 10 Grindr dates with HIV

Daryll Rowe convicted of five counts of grievous bodily harm with intent and five counts of attempting to do so

A hairdresser has been found guilty of deliberately infecting five men with HIV and trying to infect a further five after meeting them on the dating app Grindr.

Daryll Rowe, 27, was convicted of five counts of grievous bodily harm with intent, and a further five counts of attempted GBH, following a trial at Lewes crown court.

Jurors were shown evidence that Rowe had taunted his victims, texting one: “I have HIV. Lol. Whoops!”

The prosecution said Rowe went on a “campaign” in the Brighton area to infect as many men as possible during a four-month period from October 2015, and warned that there might be further victims.

The court heard that Rowe repeatedly sabotaged condoms, and then mocked victims saying that he was “riddled” with the virus after they raised concerns. One man said that Rowe was “laughing” when he called, adding: “Burn. I got you.”

Rowe was first arrested in February 2016, but denied that he was HIV positive in his first police interview. The police put out a public health warning, asking men who had had sex with a man matching Rowe’s description to contact the authorities.

Rowe then went on the run in November 2016, targeting two more men in the north-east while using a fake name. When he was finally arrested, he was found with a rucksack of sabotaged condoms.

The court heard that Rowe was aggressive and abusive towards his victims. In one incident, Rowe told an Aids and HIV charity worker, who was diagnosed after they were involved, that “moaning” would not cure him.

The charity worker had never had unprotected sex and was taking tests every six months. He described the news of his diagnosis as like being “hit by a bus”, adding: “You feel like your life is over. You feel like you should go to a high place and jump.”

One victim said that he had believed that Rowe was his boyfriend, but that the hairdresser had become increasingly abusive and possessive over the course of the relationship.

Rowe looked after him when the younger man was first diagnosed, but sent abusive messages after they broke up, including: “You’re a f****** psychopath, you’re afraid of your own shadow. I can do much better than you. I’m way, way out of your league.”

Another text said: “No-one will ever love you.”

Originally from Edinburgh, Rowe was diagnosed with the virus in April 2015. Doctors became concerned when he stopped turning up to appointments and refused antiretroviral treatment, which would have made him less contagious.

Rowe had been warned that he could be prosecuted for passing on the virus, and prosecutors said that the explicit messages to his victims showed a detailed knowledge of the disease and its treatments.

The court heard that several victims were infected with a very similar HIV strain to that carried by Rowe, making it highly likely he was the source of the virus.

Over the course of the trial, Rowe denied deliberately infecting the men, but the jury of seven women and five men returned the verdicts after 18 hours of deliberating.

Rowe said that he thought he had cured himself of HIV after taking a variety of non-traditional medication, including “urine therapy”.

Rowe, who cried in the dock, said: “I never had in my mind before, during or after any of the sex that I wanted to pass on HIV to anybody.”

He said he did not remember the text saying: “I have HIV”.

Caroline Carberry QC, prosecuting, said it was “convenient” he could not remember sending the “damning text” and branded him a “comfortable liar”.

 Published in the Guardian on Nov 16, 2017


Man with HIV tried to infect partners he met on Grindr, court told

Daryll Rowe allegedly sent mocking text messages telling partners in Brighton he was HIV positive and they could be at risk

A hairdresser deliberately tried to infect his lovers with HIV after meeting them on Grindr, a court has heard.

Daryll Rowe, 26, is accused of insisting on unprotected sex with his partners, claiming to be free of the virus, and of tampering with the condom when they insisted he used them.

He later sent mocking text messages telling his partners he was HIV positive and that they could be at risk, Lewes crown court heard.

One received a text saying: “Maybe you have the fever. I came inside you and I have HIV LOL. Oops!”

Rowe, who is originally from Edinburgh, is charged with infecting four men with the virus and attempting to infect a further six between October 2015 and December 2016.

He was living and working in the Brighton area at the time of the alleged offences. Rowe denies the charges.

The prosecutor Caroline Carberry QC described his alleged crimes as “a cynical and deliberate campaign to infect other men with HIV”.

Rowe was diagnosed with HIV in April 2015 while he was living in Edinburgh, after a sexual health clinic contacted him to tell him a former partner had the virus.

Doctors found he was coping well with his diagnosis, Carberry told the court, but they were concerned when he refused vaccination for common illnesses to which HIV-positive patients are susceptible, such as pneumonia.

They were also worried when he refused antiretroviral drugs that can slow the development of the virus and make those infected less contagious, jurors heard.

“He was warned he could be prosecuted for passing [HIV] on or even putting someone at risk of contracting HIV from him,” Carberry said. “He told his doctors he was not going to engage in any unprotected sex again, but failed to attend further appointments in Edinburgh and by this time he had moved to Brighton.

“He had no obvious family or other connections in the area, although he had been in communication online on a dating app, Grindr, with a number of men. Through Grindr, the prosecution say, he was in contact with men that he would later go on to infect or attempt to affect with HIV.”

The court heard that one of the complainants last tested negative for HIV on the morning he met Rowe, in October 2015, and he did not have sex again before he was diagnosed with the virus two months later.

In a phone call to another partner, who had insisted he use a condom, Rowe allegedly said: “I ripped the condom. You’re so stupid. You didn’t even know.”

Another man had only had one sexual partner before Rowe and considered him to be his boyfriend, the court heard.

The judge Christine Henson has granted all victims the right to lifelong anonymity and the option to give evidence from behind a screen so they will not have to face Rowe in court.

After two complainants came forward, Sussex police launched Operation Brickhill and a community-wide public health warning in the Brighton area to look for further possible victims.

The trial continues and is expected to last six weeks.

Published in the Guardian on Oct 6, 2017

US: The Body Interviews Steven Thrasher about his 4 years coverage of Michael Johnson’s case

Journalist Steven Thrasher Reflects on HIV Criminalization, Race, and the Press on the Eve of Michael Johnson’s Announced Parole Decision
April 18, 2018

Journalist Steven Thrasher Reflects on HIV Criminalization, Race, and the Press on the Eve of Michael Johnson’s Announced Parole Decision

April 17, 2018

The story of Michael Johnson, a gay black wrestler who named himself “Tiger Mandingo” online, was the perfect storm of racism, homophobia, and the outdated HIV-phobia embodied in various laws criminalizing people with the virus for having sex. (Although the number of such laws is decreasing under pressure, they still exist in many states.)

From almost the beginning of the story in 2013, when Johnson was arrested in his dorm room, through the news last week that he will be paroled in 2019, New York-based journalist Steven Thrasher was virtually the only reporter to push past the prosecution’s press releases and talk directly to Johnson and others involved. The reporting, for Buzzfeed, resulted in a strikingly in-depth and complex look at the situation and the racial, sexual, and legal dynamics driving a trial that originally landed Johnson a 30-year sentence. (Here are all the stories, in chronological order: 123456789.)


TheBody talked to Thrasher, who is also a doctoral candidate in American Studies at New York University, about his four-year saga of covering Johnson’s case and what it says about how we have — and haven’t — changed when it comes to how we see race, sexuality, and HIV.

Tim Murphy: Have you talked to Michael Johnson since the parole (which won’t happen for another 18 months) was announced?

Steven Thrasher: I’ve talked to his friend in Indiana whom he’s going to be living with when he gets out. She’s lined up a part-time job for him in a warehouse; then, she’s going to help him get back into school. He actually is not allowed to go to public college for the first year. He’s 25 or 26 now. By the time he gets out, he’ll have served six years.

TM: How did you come onto the story in the first place?

ST: My editor Mark Schoofs at Buzzfeed put me on it. He said: “This black kid with HIV is being made out to be a black predator monster and nobody’s talked to him. Go to Missouri and talk to him.” The initial reporting on the case wasn’t reporting at all, but just rewrites of the prosecutor’s press releases, which were salacious. You see that happen a lot with legal stories about black, queer, or HIV-positive subjects, but it’s also a bigger problem in journalism.

TM: What are the big takeaways for you on this story?

ST: There are many. The biggest is that it puts HIV laws into the foreground and calls them into question. Many people, myself included, might first think that there could be some rational basis for these laws [that primarily criminalize people with HIV specifically for having sex without disclosing their HIV status to partners]. But it simply isn’t true. They’re at best ineffective and at worst harmful in terms of increasing HIV stigma and discouraging people from getting tested.

The story also shows, just like the story of the police murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, that people don’t have to be “perfect” to rally around. [After receiving an HIV diagnosis, Johnson may or may not have disclosed his HIV status to multiple sex partners before having condomless sex — that much remains unclear.] Since this story began, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has created a different way of standing up for people. We’ve had a long tradition from the mid-20th-century civil rights movement forward that people have to be the camera-ready ideal victims to rally around. The Michael Brown story said that all people are worth rallying around, and I feel that way about Michael Johnson.

The case is also an early example of thinking about how people are judged in court by their social media presence. [Johnson named himself “Tiger Mandingo” on Instagram and posted numerous pictures of his shirtless, buff body.] I would not want to be judged in court solely for my social media presence.

The case focused on interracial sexual desire and how often the responsibility for it is offloaded completely onto black people. The bulk of Michael’s accusers were white and, in court, they speak almost entirely in passive language about their own role in the sexual exchange, the way that, historically, white women would be framed as innocent in any sort of sexual exchange they had with black men, saying it was rape. Or it being considered rape even if it were consensual.

The case also exposed this perception on the part of many HIV-negative people that the world has to keep them from becoming HIV positive, and all they have to do is ask, “Are you clean?” and that absolves them from having to use a condom or taking any other kind of preventive measure. Actually, everyone needs to work together to try to keep HIV rates down.

TM: It’s interesting that the story started before the widespread emergence of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) or even the growing understanding that someone with HIV on meds who is undetectable is also virtually unable to transmit the virus.

ST: There was no PrEP in Missouri at the time. But, I’m not sure that it would have made a difference. Michael Johnson probably wouldn’t have had access to it. [Even today, PrEP access among gay black men is comparatively low.

TM: Also, the campus of Lindenwood University appears to have had little-to-no sexual health or HIV/AIDS prevention resources. Condoms weren’t even for sale at the health center.

ST: Right. They might not even know about or be offering PrEP today. [I called the university’s health center and asked about “getting on PrEP for HIV,” and the woman who answered had no idea what I was talking about. So, Thrasher is likely right.]

TM: It is an open question, though, whether Johnson clearly told his sex partners that he was HIV positive before they had sex without a condom. Should there have been any legal action against him?

ST: I would say no. I don’t think law enforcement is an effective or appropriate tool for this issue. But also, the punishment should not have been anything like the original sentence of 30 years, or even the six years he’ll end up doing. It was completely out of proportion to what he did. There are shorter sentences in Missouri for murder. In California, the maximum sentence on an HIV criminalization charge is six months.

TM: Did you ever ask him why he had unprotected sex when he knew he was HIV positive?

ST: I don’t think I asked him that. He said on the record in court that he always told his partners. No one will know for sure what he said. He said to me that he never wanted to hurt anyone. When I asked him whether he knew who gave him HIV, he said he couldn’t say for sure but that he wouldn’t want to because he’d never want what happened to him to happen to anyone else.

TM: Do you think the media have gotten better at covering this kind of intersection of race, sex, and HIV since Johnson’s story broke?

ST: I think coverage on both race and HIV has gotten a lot better. Even just a few years ago, most reporting on anything racial was from an unselfconsciously white perspective. BLM has had a big impact, not just in terms of writing about race but forcing a reflection on the subjectivity, biases, and assumptions of reporters themselves.

TM: How do you think HIV coverage has improved?

ST: For a long time, the only gay thing that was making news was gay marriage, which doesn’t address any number of injustices and challenges that many LGBT people face.

But HIV/AIDS brings up sex, drug use, poverty, homelessness, structural racism — all very difficult things to write about. Coverage has gotten better because editors have given people like me the opportunity to cover this stuff, and BLM has increased the viability of reporters and advocates getting their stories through newsrooms. There’s been a consciousness-raising that marriage is not the entire story and that homophobia plays out in other ways in society. Look at Linda Villarosa’s New York Times Magazine cover story last summer on HIV rates among gay black men in the South.

I also think the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] releasing the stat in 2016 that one in two gay black men would get HIV really forced mainstream gay organizations to realize that this was more urgent.

I also think the emergence of PrEP has made HIV an issue that’s clearer and more compelling for HIV-negative people.

TM: What is Michael Johnson like?

ST: He’s very sweet, very nice, gentle, and simple. He’s literal-minded. When I asked him how he got to college, he said, “I took the bus.” I’ve seen him in person a couple times a year the past few years, and he has no ill will toward anyone about this. He’s extremely sorry for everything that’s happened. He’s very smart about exercise and fitness and says he wants to become a personal trainer. I really learned that if there’s one thing reporters can do differently, it’s to actually talk to all the people involved in a story.

TM: What was it like working on the story for you, as a gay black man?

ST: It’s been hard at times and made me feel vulnerable. I hadn’t remembered that the prosecutor turned to the judge and said, “There’s a so-called journalist in the room, and I think he has an agenda, and I’ve asked the court to admonish him.” And the judge did. He told me not to talk to the jurors. It was frightening to have the bailiffs with their guns standing there, watching me intently.

I felt like I was watching a slow-motion lynching. I never thought Michael was without any responsibility in the situation, but he was still scapegoated by being made to carry responsibility for everyone in those sexual encounters. Watching that unfold, the legal violence of this kid maybe getting sent away for life was difficult.

But, if I hadn’t reported this story, then “Black Monster Spreads AIDS” is all the reporting that would have happened. My reporting got the interest of the ACLU and Lambda Legal. I kept pointing out how all the national gay organizations would have nothing to do with Michael. But then a group of nearly 100 black gay men wrote an open letter of support to Michael, and some of them started a GoFundMe that raised $25,000 toward the private lawyer that appealed his case on the basis of withheld evidence and got his sentence down to 10 years from 30.

And a separate group of HIV public health experts and faith leaders wrote a letter to the prosecutors asking for a more reasonable sentence for Michael that would not destroy his life. And now, he will be out of prison and able to restart his life in his mid-20s.

So, overall, despite how the story started, I’ve felt positive about how it all played out.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Tim Murphy has been living with HIV since 2000 and writing about HIV activism, science and treatment since 1994. He writes for and has been a staffer at POZ, and writes for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Out Magazine, The Advocate, Details and many other publications. He is also the author of the NYC AIDS-era novel Christodora.

US: Trans woman arrested for alleged HIV transmission and non-disclosure

Woman charged with knowingly transmitting HIV
April 17, 2018

Woman charged with knowingly transmitting HIV

A woman is being accused of not telling her sexual partners she was HIV positive and transmitting the virus.

Jesica Martinez, 53, was arrested on Friday after a victim came forward in February.

He told police he and Martinez engaged in sex several times after meeting on the online dating application Tinder and he’d tested positive for HIV. His allegations came to light from a civil defense attorney who gave Tallahassee Police information that Martinez had been HIV positive since 1996.

The victim said he was texted by a friend who alerted him to Martinez’s status. He told police she never alerted him to her status.

Police contacted the woman who alerted the victim. She confirmed that she’d known Martinez since the 1980s.

Medical records obtained by TPD showed that Martinez was aware of her HIV status since 1996. Two other victims were contacted by police who confirmed they’d had sex with Martinez, but she failed to tell them her status.

Martinez spoke with police on April 6. She said she is transsexual and had surgery to create her genitals and therefore could not transmit HIV. She also said her viral loads were too low to transmit the disease.

But she admitted to knowing but ignoring the law requiring her to tell sexual partners.

“I did not tell him which I know is wrong,” Martinez told police according to court records. “I acknowledge that.”

Zimbabwe: 25-year-old woman arrested for allegedly transmitting HIV to her husband

Woman arrested for ‘infecting’ hubby with HIV
April 17, 2018

Woman arrested for ‘infecting’ hubby with HIV

A 25-YEAR-OLD woman from Nkulumane suburb in Bulawayo has been arrested for allegedly deliberately infecting her husband with HIV

The woman who cannot be named for ethical reasons allegedly had unprotected sexual intercourse with her husband sometime between January and  February this year knowing that she was HIV positive. She allegedly tested positive for HIV in December last year and she did not reveal her status to her husband. She continued to have unprotected sexual intercourse with him. The woman was not asked to plead when she appeared before Western Commonage magistrate Mr Lungile Ncube last week, facing deliberate transmission of HIV charges. Mr Ncube remanded her in custody to April 24.

Prosecuting, Mrs Memory Ndlovu said on an unknown date but between January and February this year the complainant discovered that his wife was secretly taking some tablets which he did not know. He became suspicious but he did not question her.

On February 20 he searched his wife’s handbag and discovered a book which was hidden in an inside pocket,” said Mrs Ndlovu  “The book indicated that his wife was tested for HIV at Nkulumane Clinic on December 19 and had tested positive. On February 22 the husband went for an HIV test and also tested positive.

Published in The Chronicle on April 16, 2018

Chile: Chilean deputy promotes bill seeking to criminalise HIV transmission

Diputado chileno: quienes contagien el VIH intencionalmente deben ir presos
April 14, 2018

Chilean Deputy: those who intentionally spread HIV should be imprisoned (Google translation – For original article in Spanish, scroll below)

SANTIAGO (Sputnik) – It is necessary to send to jail those who carry the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and who intentionally spread it to others, Sputnik was told by Chilean government deputy Juan Antonio Coloma.

“A person with a deadly disease such as the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) can not be sanctioned in our Penal Code when they transmit it to others, knowing they have it and with the intention of infecting them,” said the parliamentarian who promoted the bill foreseeing sanctions for those cases.

The bill has four requirements for the crime to be carried out: that the person knows that they have the disease, that they intend to transmit it, that they have participated in a behavior that poses a risk of transmission and that they have infected someone.

The legislator belonging to the Independent Democratic Union party (right) said that this behavior is punished in other countries “such as Germany, Italy, Argentina and Peru” and that “it is relevant that in Chile there is also a sanction.”

“Some do it, for example, as a form of revenge, after having been infected by the disease they are dedicated to infecting other people, this is the criminal type that we are expecting to be discussed in the Health Committee of the Chamber of Deputies “, he claimed.

Coloma also responded to the criticism of the Progressive Party (left) deputy, Marisela Santibañez, who told Emol that Coloma  that it “is wrong to want to send sick people to jail” and asked “not to criminalize the issue.”

“They intend to caricature a project that although it is not intended to be an effective measure to combat AIDS, seeks not to leave impunity to those infected who transmit the disease with intent,” the parliamentarian replied to this agency.

However, he added that this measure “should be part of a battery of projects, obviously we must also talk about sex education and facilitating access to HIV tests.”

Earlier this week, the director of the HIV Center of the Clinical Hospital of the University of Chile, Alejandro Afani, said in an interview with the newspaper La Segunda that between 2010 and 2017 the infections by this virus increased by 96% and that the disease “is out of control”.

Afani said that the largest number of people infected is in the group of those between 15 and 25 years old.

The Ministry of Health informed on Wednesday that it will start a new multi-sector campaign called the National HIV / AIDS Plan, working together with the Ministry of Education.

Published in Sputnik Mundo on April 13, 2018


SANTIAGO (Sputnik) — Es necesario enviar a la cárcel a aquellos que porten el Virus de Inmunodeficiencia Humana (VIH) y que intencionalmente se lo contagien a otros, dijo a Sputnik el diputado oficialista chileno, Juan Antonio Coloma.

No puede quedar sin sanción en nuestro Código Penal una persona con una enfermedad mortal como el Síndrome de Inmunodeficiencia Adquirida (Sida) que contagie a otro sabiendo que la tiene y con la intención de contagiarla”, afirmó el parlamentario impulsor del proyecto de ley que prevé esas sanciones para esos casos.

El proyecto de ley tiene cuatro requisitos para que se cumpla el delito: que la persona sepa que tiene la enfermedad, que tenga intención de contagiar, que haya participado en una conducta de riesgo de transmisión y que haya infectado a alguien.

El legislador perteneciente al partido Unión Demócrata Independiente (derecha) dijo que esta conducta es castigada en otros países “como Alemania, Italia, Argentina y Perú” y que “es relevante que en Chile también exista una sanción”.

“Algunos lo hacen, por ejemplo, como una forma de venganza, después de haberse contagiado la enfermedad se dedican a contagiar a otras personas, ese es el tipo penal que nosotros estamos esperando que se discuta en la Comisión de Salud de la Cámara de Diputados”, afirmó.

Coloma también respondió a las críticas de la diputada del Partido Progresista (izquierda), Marisela Santibañez, quien dijo al medio online Emol que Coloma “se equivoca al querer mandar a la cárcel a personas enfermas” y pidió “no criminalizar el tema”.

“Ellos pretenden caricaturizar un proyecto que si bien no tiene la intención de ser la medida efectiva para combatir el Sida, busca no dejar en la impunidad a aquellos contagiados que transmitan la enfermedad con dolo”, contestó el parlamentario a esta agencia.

Sin embargo, agregó que esta medida “debe ser parte de una batería de proyectos, evidentemente también hay que hablar de educación sexual y de la facilitación al acceso a los exámenes del VIH”.

A comienzos de esta semana, el director del Centro VIH del Hospital Clínico de la Universidad de Chile, Alejandro Afani, dijo en una entrevista al diario La Segunda que entre los años 2010 y 2017 los contagios por este virus aumentaron un 96% y que la enfermedad “está fuera de control”.

Afani indicó que la mayor cantidad de contagiados está en el grupo de los que tienen entre 15 y 25 años.

El Ministerio de Salud informó el miércoles que iniciará una nueva campaña multisectorial llamada Plan Nacional del VIH/SIDA, realizando un trabajo en conjunto con el Ministerio de Educación.

[Update]US: Ohio woman living with HIV faces second conviction for alleged HIV non-disclosure

HIV positive Salem woman guilty of having sex with Hubbard man
April 12, 2018

HIV positive Salem woman guilty of having sex with Hubbard man

WARREN, Ohio –

A Salem woman already in prison for having unprotected sex with men without telling them she was HIV positive faces sentencing for a similar crime in Trumbull County.

Lisa Mutter, 42, pleaded guilty in Trumbull County Court on Wednesday to felonious assault.

Mutter was indicted after a Hubbard man told police he was living with Mutter between November 2015 and February of 2016 and the two had unprotected sex.

The victim told police he found out about Mutter being HIV positive after learning about a felonious assault charge filed against her in Columbiana County.

HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, weakens a person’s immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection.

No effective cure exists for HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Mutter pleaded guilty in the Columbiana County case and was sentenced last month to three years in prison.

She’ll be sentenced in Trumbull County after a pre-sentencing report is completed.

Published in WFMJ on April 12, 2018


HIV positive woman pleads guilty to assault on 9 men

LISBON — An HIV positive woman pleaded guilty to felonious assault in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court on Monday for having unprotected sex with multiple partners without disclosing her condition.

Lisa Mutter, 42, formerly of Benton Road, Salem, agreed to plead to the second-degree felony charge before Judge Scott Washam.

Assistant County Prosecutor John Gamble said at the time of sentencing he will ask for a three-year term and recommend judicial release after two years. Mutter is facing up to eight years and a fine of $15,000. Sentencing is scheduled for March 22.

When asked by Washam during the plea hearing if she was taking any medications, Mutter said she is currently using the medication both for her HIV and bipolar. She also is attending counselling in the New Castle, Pa., area.

Starting in May and continuing through July 2014, Mutter, a carrier of HIV which causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), engaged in sexual conduct with about nine men, according to court documents. She did not disclose her condition to any of them.

Mutter is also facing a similar felonious assault charge in Trumbull County for unprotected sex without disclosing her condition starting in November 2015 and continuing until early February 2016. She lists her address in that court as Pulaski, Pa. A Jan. 24 pretrial is scheduled in that case.

Published in Salem News on Jan 8, 2018

[update]US: Former police officer found guilty of alleged HIV exposure, nine months after initial jury unable to reach a verdict

Former Greenacres cop convicted in HIV exposure case
April 11, 2018

Former Greenacres cop convicted in HIV exposure case

Nearly five months after a first jury could not decide whether Ervans Saintclair was guilty of exposing a sex partner to HIV without her knowledge, it took a new jury less than an hour Wednesday to reject the former Greenacres police officer’s claims that he didn’t know he was infected when he repeatedly had unprotected sex with the former neighbor.

Jurors convicted Saintclair on a single charge of uninformed HIV infected sexual intercourse, a first degree felony for which the 41-year-old potentially faces up to 30 years in prison when Circuit Judge Samantha Schosberg Feuer sentences him on May 31.

Feuer ordered Saintclair taken into the Palm Beach County Jail immediately after the verdict Wednesday, over objections from defense attorney Ade Griffin. Saint Clair had been free on $30,000 bond since his arrest in January 2014.

“He has maintained his innocence from the beginning and he continues to do so. Now we’ll just have to go through the appellate process,” Griffin said after the verdict.

Saintclair’s appeal will likely center on Griffin’s arguments, echoed from his first trial in November, that prosecutors did not present all the elements necessary for a conviction under the Florida statute that makes it a crime for someone who knows he or she is infected with the virus that causes AIDS to have sex without informing partners of the diagnosis.

Griffin tried unsuccessfully this week to convince jurors that prosecutors failed to prove that Saint Clair knew he was infected when he had sex with a woman with whom he was in an on and off relationship from 2009 to 2013. The woman, a now 40-year-old postal service worker, testified at Saintclair’s first trial last year and again this week that the two of them had unprotected sex throughout their relationship and at one point were trying to conceive a child together.

Assistant State Attorney Brianna Coakley presented medical records and testimony from doctors who examined Saintclair, telling jurors the former officer knew he was infected as early as 2007.

Saintclair also faces another similar charge in the case involving the same woman, plus three other similar charges in connection with the case of a woman who said she had sex with Saintclair between March 2012 and November 2013 without him ever telling her that he was HIV positive.

The woman, who said she and Saintclair initially had protected sex but stopped using condoms after their relationship grew more serious, contacted police after media coverage of Saintclair’s arrest.

She said the two of them discussed sexually transmitted diseases before they stopped using condoms and “Saintclair assured her that he was ‘good’ and she did not have to worry about him,” according to arrest reports.

Published in Palm Beach Post on April 11, 2018 


Mistrial for former officer accused of not telling partners about HIV status

A Palm Beach County jury declared it could not reach a verdict in the case of a former Greenacres police officer charged with having sex with women without informing them of his HIV-positive status.

Forty-one-year-old Ervans Saintclair faced two-counts of uniformed HIV infected sexual intercourse.

Saintclair was released from the Greenacres Police department in 2014 when investigators began looking into several allegations from alleged victims.

Thursday afternoon, Circuit Judge Samantha Schlosberg Feuer declared a mistrial in the case.

Attorney’s waved the 90 days allowed following a mistrial.

A new trial date is set for January 29, 2018 at 9 a.m. Saintclair faces 3 other similar charges in a separate case.

That case is up for a status check on December 18. Saintclair will remain on pre-trial release.

Published on CBS12 on Nov 9, 2017


Trial to start for ex-cop accused of not telling sexual partners he has HIV

A former police officer accused of having unprotected sex with multiple women without telling them about his HIV infection is heading to trial.

Ervans Saintclair, who was a Greenacres officer until the allegations surfaced in 2014, faces five major felony charges.

Being convicted of just one count could bring a prison sentence of up to 30 years for the 41-year-old ex-cop.

It’s unclear whether any of the women contracted HIV as a result of their relations with the officer. The felony charges are based only on the claim that he didn’t inform any of them he had HIV before they had sex.

Published in the Sun Sentinel on Nov 6, 2017

US: Man sentenced to eight years in jail in North Dakota for alleged HIV transmission

ND man gets 8 years in prison for spreading HIV
April 11, 2018

WILLISTON, N.D.—A man was sentenced Tuesday to serve eight years in prison for spreading HIV to another person.

Angel Miguel Rodriguez, 42, entered an Alford plea to one charge of transfer of body fluid that may contain the human immunodeficiency virus, a class A felony. In an Alford plea, a defendant maintains his innocence but acknowledges the prosecution has enough evidence for a conviction.

Rhiannon Gorham, Rodriguez’s public defender, told Northwest District Judge Kirsten Sjue that her client disagreed with some of the prosecution’s claims but agreed to enter an Alford plea to take advantage of the agreement offered by prosecutors.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with two years suspended. He will get credit for the 453 days he spent in jail before Tuesday’s plea. When he is released he’ll have to serve five years of supervised probation.

Rodriguez was arrested in January 2017, after a woman he’d dated in summer and fall 2016 contacted police. She told officers that she had been diagnosed with HIV after having unprotected sex with Rodriguez and that he never told her he was HIV-positive, according to court records.

In court Tuesday, Williams County State’s Attorney Marlyce Wilder said Rodriguez had met the woman in August 2016. At one point in time, someone told the woman that Rodriguez “had AIDS,” Wilder said, but when the woman asked Rodriguez whether he did, he told her, “Probably not.”

A detective found that Rodriguez told officers at the Williams County jail that he had HIV in November 2015, Wilder told Sjue.

Wilder said the woman, who didn’t attend Tuesday’s hearing or submit a victim impact statement, had been consulted about the agreement.

“At some point, the victim in this case needs to have closure in this matter,” Wilder said. “And I hope that she finds peace in the fact Mr. Rodriguez has been sentenced to a considerable amount of time.”

Gorham said her client had hoped for a shorter sentence, but also understood the seriousness of the charge. And even after he’s released, she said, he will be watched.

“Following this sentence, my client will have a significant amount of time on supervised probation,” Gorham said.

When given the opportunity to speak, Rodriguez, who was speaking through an interpreter, asked Sjue what she wanted to know.

Sjue told Rodriguez he had the chance to say anything about the case.

“I don’t know what to say,” he said.

Sjue accepted the agreement, calling it an appropriate resolution to the case.

Published in Duluth News Tribune on April 9, 2018

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