A homeless St. Thomas man arrested twice in four days has tested positive for COVID-19, and the Health Department is arranging housing so he can quarantine safely, according to testimony in V.I. Superior Court on Friday.
Lester Maddox, 54, who walks with two crutches, was arrested Monday and charged with disturbance of the peace after he told employees at Banco Popular in Estate Thomas that he intended to rob the bank.
Released from jail on his own recognizance, he was again arrested Thursday after refusing to leave a bench outside a St. Thomas restaurant, asking officers to “please arrest me,” according to an affidavit filed by police.
Police took Maddox into custody and charged him with trespass, interfering with an officer, and vagrancy. Unable to post $1,000 bail, he appeared in court again on Friday.
In their second meeting in a week, Magistrate Judge Carolyn Hermon-Percell said the situation is perplexing. “I don’t know what’s suddenly going on Mr. Maddox. I’ve never seen Mr. Maddox until this week,” she said.
While Maddox tested negative for COVID-19 after his first arrest Monday, he tested positive Thursday.
Because of his positive test result, he was not transferred to a Corrections Bureau Facility, but instead held in the police station’s booking area, where he appeared via video conference Friday.
“Him being here is very inconvenient. Should VIPD have any arrests or whatever, this is the same area they need to come,” said V.I. Police Lt. Roberto Monsanto.
Assistant V.I. Attorney General John Barraco said Maddox “hasn’t committed a violent crime, so we don’t really see him as a threat to the community. We’re OK with releasing him on his own recognizance, but I guess we let him keep getting himself barred from businesses.”
The judge did not object to releasing Maddox. But given that he does not have a home, she expressed concern that he could potentially infect others.
“A curveball is thrown at us. How do we handle this, people? Help me,” Hermon-Percell said.
“Your honor, I honestly have no idea,” Barraco said.
“We can’t detain him because he’s COVID positive,” Hermon-Percell said. “That’s not what he’s being punished for.”
She asked if the Health Department had been alerted. “How about the people who had interaction with him?” Hermon-Percell asked. “I don’t know how close these people may have come.”
“And he was not wearing his mask properly,” Lieutenant Monsanto said.
The judge called a recess to consult with public health officials “to see what protocol may be in place for persons who have no fixed address, persons who may need to quarantine but have nowhere to quarantine,” she said. “Somebody has to have an answer as to what happens in such situations.”
When court resumed, she said the Health Department is aware of Maddox, and they have prepared a location where he can quarantine while he recovers from the virus.
Bureau of Corrections spokesman Kyza Callwood told The Daily News on Friday that there have been no COVID-19 outbreaks at correctional facilities in the territory since an August outbreak at the St. Thomas jail.
“Booking for new intakes is not done among the general population,” Callwood said explaining the Bureau’s COVID precautions. “New intakes are kept in quarantine regardless of test results as recommended by the CDC. BOC’s medical team, and staff has mitigated the threat posed by COVID-19 with temperature checks, 14-day quarantine for all new intakes, suspension of in-person visits and work details, compulsory wearing of a face covering, and enhanced disinfection and sanitizing of frequently used areas.”
The Bureau has requested that courts continue to conduct all advice-of-rights hearings virtually “because of the risk that a detainee may contract COVID-19 while being transported to and from a court hearing,” Callwood said.
While there are no known or suspected cases of COVID-19 at any local correctional facilities, “COVID-19 remains a potent threat in congregate living facilities like prisons and jails,” Callwood said. “In-person visits, work details, inmate furloughs, and work releases remain suspended at Bureau facilities until this threat subsides.
In the coming weeks, the Bureau will be working with its partners at the Virgin Islands Department of Health, C.D.C., and other correctional leaders to reevaluate how best to ease these COVID-19 restrictions safely and responsibly.”