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Federal grand jury indicts man who allegedly said he had COVID-19, spat on medic, officers

According to an FBI affidavit, the man spat in a paramedic’s face, striking the medic’s eye and mouth with saliva


A federal grand jury has indicted a man accused of spitting on a paramedic, police officers and hospital staff while claiming to have COVID-19. The FBI called the alleged actions of Walter Poindexter, 32, a “biological weapons hoax.”

Photo/Federal Bureau of Investigation

John Caniglia
The Plain Dealer, Cleveland

CLEVELAND — A federal grand jury has indicted a Cleveland man on charges that he spit on officers and medical personnel while claiming he had the coronavirus.

An indictment unsealed Tuesday charged Walter Poindexter, 32, with four counts of false information and hoaxes in U.S. District Court in Cleveland.

The incident stemmed from Poindexter’s arrest March 14 by officers of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority. A trolley driver called officers about a man drinking.

After the officers stopped Poindexter near Public Square, they found that he had a parole violation in Franklin County. They transferred him to the Cuyahoga County Jail for processing.

An FBI affidavit filed by prosecutors alleges Poindexter then began talking about how he had trouble breathing and that he had the coronavirus. Once at the jail, he began coughing in the faces of officers and a nurse.

He was transported to MetroHealth Medical Center, where he complained about being ill. The affidavit said he coughed and spit on officers and hospital staff. The spit struck a paramedic in the eye and mouth. Poindexter remained agitated until medical personnel sedated him.

He had never received a coronavirus test before his arrest. He and the paramedic tested negative, according to the affidavit.

The FBI document called Poindexter’s actions a “biological weapons hoax.” Because of Poindexter’s behavior, paramedics were unable to take another patient from the hospital to Pennsylvania.

In March, a Cuyahoga County grand jury indicted Poindexter on three counts of assault, harassment by an inmate and obstructing official business involving the incident.

It is unclear whether the two cases will go on or if only the federal case will proceed. The charges in federal court could bring a steeper prison sentence, based on a number of factors, including prior criminal history.

Poindexter’s attorney in Common Pleas Court, Eric Levy, said he had not seen the federal indictment. He said he expects someone else will represent Poindexter in federal court.

Legal experts said the issue is similar to cases brought in the late 1980s and 1990s by people who claimed to have the AIDS and later admitted to lying.

“This is not a trivial matter,” said Lewis Katz, a professor at the School of Law at Case Western Reserve University. “It’s a serious assault for someone to purposefully threaten to communicate COVID-19.”

J. Dean Carro, a retired professor of law at the University of Akron, agreed. While some critics may question why the case was taken to federal court, Carro did not.

“If it is in the statute, it is fair game,” he said.

The case has been assigned to Judge Benita Pearson.


©2020 The Plain Dealer, Cleveland