HIV-positive man receives 35 years for spitting on Dallas police officer

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

An HIV-positive man was sentenced to 35 years in prison Wednesday, one day after being convicted of harassment of a public servant for spitting into the eye and open mouth of a Dallas, Texas police officer in May 2006. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that no one has ever contracted HIV from saliva, and a gay-rights and AIDS advocacy group called the sentence excessive.

Scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1 (in green) budding from cultured lymphocyte
Image: C. Goldsmith, CDC.

A Dallas County jury concluded that Willie Campbell's act of spitting on policeman Dan Waller in 2006 constituted the use of his saliva as a deadly weapon. The incident occurred while Campbell, 42, was resisting arrest while being taken into custody for public intoxication.

"He turns and spits. He hits me in the eye and mouth. Then he told me he has AIDS. I immediately began looking for something to flush my eyes with," said Waller to The Dallas Morning News.

Officer Waller responded after a bystander reported seeing an unconscious male lying outside a building. Dallas County prosecutors stated that Campbell attempted to fight paramedics and kicked the police officer who arrested him for public intoxication.

Cquote1.svg It's been 25 years since the virus was identified, but there are still lots of fears. Cquote2.svg

—Bebe Anderson, Lambda Legal

Prosecutors said that Campbell yelled that he was innocent during the trial, and claimed a police officer was lying. Campbell's lawyer Russell Heinrichs said that because he had a history of convictions including similarly attacking two other police officers, biting inmates, and other offenses, he was indicted under a habitual offender statute. The statute increased his minimum sentence to 25 years in prison. Because the jury ruled that Campbell's saliva was used as a deadly weapon, he will not be eligible for parole until completing at least half his sentence.

Cquote1.svg If you look at the facts of this case, it was clear that the defendant intended to cause serious bodily injury. Cquote2.svg

Craig Watkins, Dallas County DA

The organization Lambda Legal (Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund), which advocates for individuals living with HIV, says that saliva should not be considered a deadly weapon. Bebe Anderson, the HIV projects director at Lambda Legal, spoke with The Dallas Morning News about the sentence. "It's been 25 years since the virus was identified, but there are still lots of fears," said Anderson.

The Dallas County prosecutor who handled the trial, Jenni Morse, said that the deadly weapon finding was justified. "No matter how minuscule, there is some risk. That means there is the possibility of causing serious bodily injury or death," said Morse. Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins stated: "If you look at the facts of this case, it was clear that the defendant intended to cause serious bodily injury."

Cquote1.svg Contact with saliva, tears, or sweat has never been shown to result in transmission of HIV. Cquote2.svg

CDC, HIV and Its Transmission

A page at the CDC's website, HIV and Its Transmission, states: "HIV has been found in saliva and tears in very low quantities from some AIDS patients." The subsection "Saliva, Tears, and Sweat" concludes that: "Contact with saliva, tears, or sweat has never been shown to result in transmission of HIV." On Friday the Dallas County Health Department released a statement explaining that HIV is most commonly spread through sexual contact, sharing needles, or transfusion from an infected blood product.


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