The Erie County District Attorney announced Tuesday that seven people face charges related to separate incidents, during which all are accused of spitting or coughing at arresting officers and then claiming to be infected with COVID-19.
The incidents occured on dates as early as March 15 and as recently as May 4. District Attorney John Flynn says prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, most of the behaviors by these seven defendants, including spitting, would be treated as misdemeanors. But under the current circumstances, he believes these should be treated more seriously. In two cases, he's pursuing felony Attempted Assault counts.
"Now, during COVID-19, when you say you have COVID-19, and then you will engage in that conduct, to me that's a felony. And that's going to be treated as a felony, and it's going to happen and not be taken lightly," Flynn said.
All but one of the seven defendants claimed, according to prosecutors, that he or she was infected during the arrest incident. Charged in separate cases are:
- Darren Hamilton, 59 years old, of Buffalo. He was arrested May 4 for alleged theft of items at a Hertel Avenue gas station and harassing a customer. Prosecutors say while being placed under arrest, Hamilton allegedly spit and coughed at the responding officers, and also allegedly stated he had tested positive for COVID-19. He is charged with Attempted Assault in the Second Degree, a Class E felony.
- Aisha Rodriguez, 47 years old, of Buffalo. She was arrested May 1 for allegedly violating an order of protection. Prosecutors say while she was being processed at Central Booking, the defendant allegedly spat at three cell block attendants and then stated she was positive for COVID-19. Rodriguez is charged with Attempted Assault in the Second Degree, a Class E felony.
- Alex Laboy, 24 years old, of Buffalo. He was arrested April 6 in the Town of West Seneca, where officers were responding to a disorderly conduct call. The defendant, according to prosecutors, was allegedly intoxicated and refused to follow the officer's commands. During arrest, he allegedly spit at the officer and stated he had COVID-19. made a statement indicating that he was positive for COVID-19. He is charged with Resisting Arrest and Disorderly Conduct.
- Lindsey M. Schott, 27 years old, of Lancaster. She was arrested April 2 during a traffic stop in the Town of Lancaster. According to the DA's office, the defendant allegedly coughed toward the officer's face several times while being questioned. She's also accused of claiming to be COVID-19 positive. Arresting officers allege she was found to possess a small quantity of marijuana and one loose Adderall pill. She is charged with Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Seventh Degree, Possession of Marijuana, and Menacing in the Third Degree.
- Abdulla Abdalla, 21 years old, of Buffalo. He was arrested March 29 in the City of Buffalo during a traffic stop on Peter Street near Amherst Street. According to the arrest report, officers smelled the odor of marijuana inside the defendant’s vehicle. The defendant allegedly refused to abide by an officer's commands to step out of the vehicle. The complaint alleges that while the officer attempted to handcuff the defendant, he allegedly spat in the officer’s face twice. Abdalla was charged with Obstruction of Governmental Administration, Harassment in the Second Degree, and Resisting Arrest.
- Bryce F. Sortino, 25 years old, of the Town of Tonawanda. He was arrested March 26 in the City of Buffalo on a robbery charge. According to the DA's office, the defendant allegedly spit on two Buffalo Police officers while being processed for that robbery count. He also allegedly made a statement indicating that he was positive for COVID-19. Sortino was charged with Obstruction of Governmental Administration, Harassment in the Second Degree, and Resisting Arrest.
- Jesse E. Baker, 35 years old, of Buffalo. He was arrested March 15 in the Town of West Seneca for an alleged DWI. According to the criminal complaint, during the arrest Baker allegedly coughed on a police officer and stated he was positive for COVID-19. He was charged with Driving While Intoxicated.
In the cases involving Attempted Assault counts, Flynn explained why he would not pursue actual assault counts.
"You actually have to hurt someone. It's got to manifest itself in actually causing someone an injury," he said. "If the victims in these cases did, in fact, come down with COVID-19, it would still be almost impossible to prove in a court of law, really, that the actual coughing or spitting incident caused the person to get sick."
Flynn said that, to the best of his knowledge, none of the officers involved in any of these incidents later reported becoming infected.