Woman who refused tuberculosis treatment not in custody 2 months after arrest warrant issued


A Washington state woman who has repeatedly refused a judge’s order to take medication for tuberculosis remains at large weeks after a rarely used arrest warrant was issued, authorities said.

The woman, identified in court documents as V.N., has a court hearing scheduled for Friday in Pierce County, south of Seattle, but it’s unclear if she’ll appear.

Sgt. Darren Moss, a spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, said V.N. was not in custody and he had no other updates. Citing client confidentiality, her lawyer declined to comment on whether she’ll attend the hearing.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department in Washington.Google Maps

A spokesman for the county’s public health department declined to comment and pointed to a previous statement saying the agency has the legal authority to compel people who pose a public health risk to comply with court orders.

A judge signed the warrant for V.N.’s arrest in March after public health officials said they had asked the judge 16 times to order her to self-isolate or take medication for the illness, described in court filings as an active case of the disease. 

Tuberculosis often damages the lungs and can be fatal. The disease is spread through the air when people cough or sneeze and can be cured with medication. 

According to the The News Tribune of Tacoma, legal petitions from the Tacoma-Pierce County Public Health Department said V.N. had at one point started the medication but then stopped.

V.N.’s condition isn’t clear. A May 10 petition from the department said an officer with the agency believes V.N. is still infected with the illness.

A court document filed last month showed that a sheriff’s deputy who had been surveilling the woman after the warrant was issued saw her boarding a bus to a casino. The deputy did not take V.N. into custody.

The surveillance was revealed in a declaration filed with Pierce County Superior Court by Patricia Jackson, chief of the county’s corrections bureau. 

Jackson said the deputy had been tasked with surveilling V.N. to execute the warrant “in a safe manner.” She did not say why V.N. wasn’t arrested or why she told the officer to stop watching V.N.

Moss, with the sheriff’s department, has declined to comment, saying his office “won’t comment on how we conduct surveillance, when we do it or when we will attempt to make an arrest after that person is in custody.”

In another May 10 court filing, a legal assistant with the Tacoma-Pierce County Public Health Department said a person who identified himself as V.N.’s son called the office and asked if his mother had missed a court hearing.

He also asked for the next hearing date and for her lawyer’s information, according to the filing.

The public health department asked in its May 10 petition for Judge Philip Sorenson to reauthorize V.N.’s involuntary detention, testing and treatment.

There were nearly 100,000 cases of tuberculosis recorded annually in the United States in the early 1950s. By 2021, that number had declined to 7,882, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pierce County sees roughly 20 active cases of the disease annually, according to the local public health department.

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