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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Michigan man claims HIV-based discrimination
by Charlsie Dewey
2016-04-13

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Corey Rangel believes that, if not for his HIV-positive status, he would not be facing four years of jail time right now.

In mid-March, Rangel said he was pulled over by a police officer in Centerville, Michigan, for a loud exhaust and cited for two civil infractions: driving without corrective lenses and not carrying proof of insurance.

Rangel had been participating in adult-treatment court, which is a drug-treatment program, for nine months at that point, and he said he immediately contacted his probation officer to let him know what had happened.

"He told me I would be fine and to just go to class and take care of the tickets," Rangel said.

Rangel said he was in the third phase of the four-phase program and had been receiving lots of positive responses to his progress in the program.

"I've been doing excellent. I've been sober that whole time," Rangel said. "I was talked about as being the ideal/poster child for this project."

So he was surprised when he got a call five hours later from his probation officer telling him he needed to report to the drug treatment court after all.

Rangel said when he arrived he was asked for his cell phone and passcode, which he handed over.

While he was sitting in a jail cell, he said someone from the court went through his cell phone and discovered photos of a sexual nature and notified the Dowagiac Police Department.

At that point, Officer Andrew Hafler was asked to investigate.

"He started asking me about their identities and ages and whether I'd disclosed my status to the people depicted in my photo album," Rangel said.

Rangel does not know how anyone learned of his HIV status, but he expects his case manager shared the information, which he had told her in confidence previously.

"My case manager [Candace Buysee] from the adult-treatment court—she is the one who initiated the probation violation. I disclosed my status to her, " Rangel said. "The only thing I can speculate is that it would have come from her, that she would have told them of my status and told them it looked like I was doing something illegal."

Rangel said he learned later that Hafler contacted the men in the photos, asking them their ages as well as if they'd had a sexual relationship with him and were aware of his HIV status.

Steven Grinnewald, director of public safety for the City of Dowagiac, disputes Rangel's account, saying at no point did Hafler reveal that he was HIV-positive to either of the men who were contacted.

"He merely asked these individuals 'did they know him and what was their relationship with him,'" Grinnewald said. "The one individual responded with 'Are you asking whether he told me he is HIV-positive or not' and Officer Hafler said something to the effect of 'Well, yeah, what's going on there,' and he said yes—he made me fully aware of it. At no point did we disclose anything."

Grinnewald said in Michigan it is a crime for someone who is HIV-positive to not disclose his or her status to sexual partners.

"If he didn't [disclose his status] it would be a crime, therefore, we had information of a possible crime that occurred in town, just like if we'd been given any information of any other crime we would investigate that as well. That's what we did here."

Grinnewald said he does not believe anyone in his department discriminated against Rangel because of his HIV status.

Rangel appeared in front of the drug court several days later and was told he was being expelled from the program. He said he had learned earlier in the day that there were pending charges against him related to the disclosure of his HIV status.

"I was taken in front of the adult treatment court and told I was no longer welcome in the program, and that I was the most deceitful person thus far in the program," Rangel said. "Upon expulsion my probation was immediately violated and I was held without bond."

Rangel spent a total of 15 days in jail.

He said he is not being charged with nondisclosure of his status since the investigation found he had in fact disclosed his status, but that it doesn't change his expulsion from the adult treatment program and, therefore, his probation violation.

Rangel went in front of the circuit court earlier this month and was granted an adjournment, which his current attorney, Blair Johnson, said is helpful in allowing more time to go over the case.

Johnson said he wasn't sure yet whether Rangel's case would be going back in front of the circuit court or the district court, but expects to find that out by this week.

He said the primary argument they will be making is that Rangel was discriminated against because of his HIV status and that the sharing of Rangel's HIV status was a violation.

"It was a fear-based decision to expel him from the court," Johnson said.

Jay Kaplan, ACLU of Michigan attorney, said though the ACLU isn't involved in Rangel's case, he is keeping an eye on it.

He said that, while Michigan does have a statute that requires disclosure of someone's HIV-positive status, there are also clear confidentiality laws that have to be adhered to when it comes to when and how someone's HIV status is disclosed, which he believes has been violated in Rangel's case.

He also said there are broader issues that have been raised due to Rangel's case.

"It raises some concerns about how law enforcement and the court system views someone who is HIV-positive," Kaplan said. "That somehow they are just this pariah out do to harm to other individuals, and we need to move beyond that stigma.

"We know what is keeping people healthy is the fact that they are getting tested and they are getting early treatment. If we have policies and practices that say to somebody who is HIV-positive we are going to treat you negatively, people are going to be less inclined to got get tested and, thus, they won't get treated and then we defeat the progress we've made so far."


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