JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Prosecutors have accused an Alaska man of violating a federal judge’s order and breaking his quarantine after securing early release from prison amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A complaint alleging criminal contempt of court has been filed against Duane Byron Fields.
Cindy Franklin, an attorney for Fields, said Wednesday her client is being made a scapegoat after a series of miscommunications.
She said Fields was tested for COVID-19 before his release from a federal prison in California that had been hit hard by the virus. The test came back positive the day before he was allowed to travel to Alaska but no one told Fields the result, she said.
The system infected him and potentially exposed others and “when they found out up here about those results, their reaction was to attempt to make some kind of scapegoat out of Mr. Fields,” Franklin said. “It’s appalling.”
Chloe Martin, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney in Anchorage, said the office to its knowledge “has not charged contempt by criminal complaint before now. It’s an unusual approach, but given the gravity of Fields’ alleged conduct and the need to protect the public, the U.S. Attorney’s Office felt it was important to move forward with a criminal complaint.”
Messages were left for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which runs the California facility, Federal Correctional Institution Terminal Island. The bureau told the Anchorage Daily News, which first reported the story, that it is investigating.
“The Bureau of Prisons’ legal authority terminates upon the expiration of an inmate’s sentence,” agency spokesman Justin Long said. “In this case, the court ordered Duane Byron Fields to be released from the BOP’s custody as soon as his release plan could be implemented and travel arrangements made.”
Fields, who was serving time in a drug-related case and has battled cancer, was granted compassionate release earlier this month by Senior U.S. District Judge James K. Singleton Jr.
Singleton’s order said the court “may fashion an appropriate sanction” should Fields fail to follow quarantine or social distancing measures or any other condition of release.
Alaska requires people arriving in the state to self-quarantine for 14 days to help guard against the virus’ spread. People are to leave their quarantine location only for medical emergencies or care.
Daniel Poulson, an attorney with the federal public defender office who worked with Fields on his request for release, in court records said the U.S. probation office reported that Fields could stay at an Anchorage hotel where Fields’ daughter worked for the quarantine period.
In an affidavit, Casey Melton, a deputy marshal with the U.S. Marshals Service, said after Fields arrived at the hotel May 8, a probation officer reminded Fields and his daughter about the quarantine in a video call. The officer discussed the quarantine again with Fields May 10, the affidavit states.
On May 11, Melton said, the prison notified the probation office that Fields was tested for COVID-19 while in custody. Upon learning of the positive test result, the probation officer tried to reach Fields and found him at his mother’s house. The officer told Fields the test result and told him to return to the hotel, Melton said.
Franklin disputes Melton’s contention that the results did not come in until May 10, citing a copy of lab results dated May 7, the day before Fields’ release. She said Fields got permission from his probation officer to go to his mother’s house to get clothes.
“The way they wrote it up, it was like, it was all his fault,” she said.