Dowagiac man accuses police of disclosing HIV status

Published 6:56 pm Monday, April 4, 2016

Allegations of discrimination against an HIV positive Dowagiac man currently facing probation violation charges has drawn the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and other advocacy groups this week.

A handful of protestors showed up outside the Cass County Law and Courts Building Monday afternoon in support of 29-year-old Corey Rangel, who had a hearing in front of Circuit Judge Michael Dodge to contest a probation violation.

After hearing arguments from the prosecution and Rangel’s attorney, Blair Johnson, Dodge ruled in favor of adjourning the hearing until a later date.

Rangel’s case will go before Judge Dodge at a date yet to be determined.

“I just want to be treated fairly and with respect,” Rangel said, when asked for comment about the charges.

Due to the ongoing nature of the case, officials with the Cass County Prosecutor’s Office could not disclose the nature of how they believe Rangel violated probation.

“We expect to present evidence of violations, and we will let the court make a determination considering the validity of those violations,” Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz said.

Rangel’s case has recently captured the attention of officials with the ACLU and the Michigan Coalition for HIV Health and Safety (MCHHS), due to the treatment that Rangel claims to have received following a run-in with law enforcement last month.

The Dowagiac man, who is currently serving a two-year probation sentence in connection with a 2015 conviction for several methamphetamine-related charges, was arrested March 14, shortly after reporting to his probation officer that he had been recently ticketed for driving without corrective lenses or without proof of insurance by the Michigan State Police, Rangel said.

Following his arrest, he turned in his cell phone to authorities; officers with the Michigan Department of Corrections then contacted the Dowagiac Police Department, informing police that Rangel had disclosed he was HIV positive and, based off information obtained from the phone, may have been sexually involved with several individuals, said Dowagiac Director of Public Safety Steve Grinnewald.

A letter written by Jay Kaplan, an attorney with the ACLU, to the Cass County District Court states that, according Rangel, Dowagiac Police officer Andrew Hafler later contacted several individuals on Rangel’s phone and disclosed the fact that the man was HIV positive — a move Kaplan alleges is a violation of Michigan public health code that states a person’s HIV status can only be shared without consent under certain circumstances that are not present in this case.

“In spite of advances with treatment of HIV, a negative stigma is still attached to it,” Kaplan said. “That someone’s HIV status could make them a danger to other people is a very problematic assumption to make.”

However, Grinnewald said this allegation is untrue. While Hafler did contact two individuals believed to have been sexually involved Rangel, it was to determine the nature of their relationship; Hafler did not disclose the fact that the man was HIV positive in either of those conversations, Grinnewald said.

The police contacted these individuals to determine whether or not Rangel had sex with them without disclosing to them his condition, which is a felony crime in the state of Michigan. One of the individuals contacted by the officer, Niles’ Nicolas Santana, revealed that he and Rangel did indeed have sex in the past and that he knew about his condition, Grinnewald said.

Santana confirmed he was contacted by Hafler, saying that the officer asked if Santana “do you know about him [Rangel].” Santana asked if the officer was referring to Ragnel’s HIV status. Santana said Hafler then asked him some other questions, including his date of birth and current address before ending the call.

Grinnewald added that the department’s investigation was not involved with the probation violation charges against Rangel, and that the department was just following up information given to them by the DOC.

“We did our due diligence,” Grinnewald said. “We investigated, we found nothing and we closed our case.”

Rangel’s incident was reported in an opinion piece written by author and University of Albany sociology professor Trevor Hoppe for the national blogging site The Huffington Post on Sunday.

On March 18, Rangel was expelled from the Adult Treatment Court Program he had been participating in as part of his probation by Cass County District Court Judge Stacey Rentfrow. On March 21, Rangel was arraigned on probation violation charges, to which he pleaded not guilty.