More details emerge in Dowagiac HIV case
Published 6:00 pm Wednesday, April 6, 2016
New details have emerged in the alleged probation violation case that has thrust a HIV positive Dowagiac resident — and Cass County law enforcement — into the local and national spotlight this week.
The Cass County Prosecutor’s Office submitted an updated bench warrant to the office of Circuit Court Judge Michael Dodge Tuesday, detailing the list of probation violations allegedly committed by 29-year-old Corey Rangel, the Dowagiac man accusing police officials of illegally disclosing his HIV status.
The updated warrant, sent to the Daily News by the prosecutor’s office, includes the following suspected violations of the terms of Rangel’s two-year probation term that was imposed following his conviction on three methamphetamine charges in the summer of the 2015:
• Violation of probation condition 1, for being cited for driving on restriction
• Violation of probation condition 2, for leaving the state of Michigan without getting prior approval from his probation agent
• Violation of probation condition 3, for making a false report with his probation officer
• Violation of probation condition 7, for being photographed at a bar in photo dated Jan. 11, 2016, holding what appeared to be an alcoholic beverage surrounded by other individuals holding alcoholic beverages
• Violation of probation condition 34, failing to abide by the Adult Treatment Court participant handbook, rule 1, by being dishonest with treatment court staff and police
• Violation of probation condition 34, failing to abide by the Adult Treatment Court participant handbook, rule 9, by being observed around others using alcohol
• Violation of probation condition 34, being unsuccessfully discharged from Adult Treatment Court
The updated warrant was issued as part of a Monday ruling made by Judge Dodge, who ordered the prosecutor’s office to provide the reasons behind Rangel’s probation violation charge; the original warrant only listed his discharge from treatment court as the reason for revocation of his probation.
Dodge made the ruling at the request of Rangel’s attorney, Blair Johnson, during Rangel’s probation violation hearing that afternoon at the Cass County Law and Courts Building. Dodge granted Johnson’s request to adjourn the hearing to next month, in order to give the attorney and Rangel a chance to prepare a defense against the charges leveled against the suspect in this case.
“I think the judge awarding the adjournment is fair, and a well thought out decision,” Rangel said.
Rangel’s case — and particularly an investigation by a Dowagiac police officer into whether or not he disclosed his HIV positive condition with potential sexual partners — has drawn the attention of several LGBT advocacy groups and the ACLU. The case was featured in an article posted Sunday on the Huffington Post, a national blogging website.
Rangel was arrested on suspicions of violating the terms of his probation on March 14. According to Rangel, he was ordered to report to his probation officer, Craig Wittenberg, to report that he had been ticketed over the weekend by an officer with the Michigan State Police Department for driving without corrective lenses or without proof of insurance.
He was taken into custody after that, and had his cell phone confiscated by his probation officer, he said. Rangel told the officer the password to access the device when asked, he said.
Rangel said he was later visited in jail by officer Andrew Hafler, with the Dowagiac Police Department, who asked him several questions pertaining to information obtained from the cell phone. Among the questions Hafler asked him pertained to images found on the phone that appeared to show Rangel engaged in sexual activity with two other people.
According to Rangel, Hafler asked Rangel to identify the subjects in these photos, and that Hafler was going to contact the two to confirm as to whether or not Rangel had disclosed the fact he was HIV positive to them before engaging in any sexual activity with them — a requirement under Michigan law.
While Rangel said the officer was respectful with his questioning, he felt that Hafler’s actions of contacting others about his condition violated the state laws concerning HIV disclosure, which can be only done under certain circumstances without the person’s consent.
“The assumption was being made that I had sex with these people, and that not only did I have with sex with them, that I did not disclose my status to them,” Rangel said.
According to a police report of the incident obtained from the Dowagiac Police Department, Hafler visited Rangel to follow up on information obtained from Wittenberg’s search of the phone, which included text messages that suggested Rangel may have attempted to purchase drugs.
Rangel said he wasn’t sure when those messages were sent, and that he has not used drugs since the beginning of his probation.
According to Dowagiac Deputy Chief Jarrid Bradford, Dowagiac police are regularly contacted by probation officers to conduct additional investigations on information provided to them by the department of corrections, he said.
Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz said it is not uncommon for probation officers to obtain information about suspected probation violators through their personal cell phones.
“It’s very routine for there to be regulations or prohibitions on use of electronic communication devices, including cell phones,” Fitz said.
Dowagiac Director of Public Safety Steve Grinnewald said that at no point did Hafler ever say Rangel was HIV positive during his conversations with the two subjects.
Hafler’s investigation into the matter found that no crimes were committed by Rangel, and the case was closed.
On March 18, Rangel appeared before Cass County District Court Judge Stacey Rentfrow, who informed him he was expelled from the adult treatment court program he was participating in as part of his probation sentence. He spent several more days in jail until he was released on bond on March 29.
“It was almost like 15 days of hell,” Rangel said of his incarceration. “I didn’t know why Adult Treatment Court was turning their backs on me. I didn’t know what was going on. I’m sober, and I worked my *** off. I just didn’t get it.”
Rangel said he disclosed the fact he was HIV positive to his Adult Treatment Court case manager, Candace Buysee, when he was first enrolled in the program. However, he said he was not told at the time this information would be shared with his probation officer or anyone else involved with the adult treatment court, he said.
According to Cass County Probate Judge Susan Dobrich, participants in the county treatment courts, such as the adult treatment court, sign a memorandum of agreement before their admission that permits information about medical status to be shared amongst members of the court — including probation staff, she said.
“We do not punish based on status, and we cannot punish status,” Dobrich said. “That’s is something we just do not do.”
Rangel is scheduled to reappear before Judge Dodge at 9 a.m. on May 9, according to the prosecutor’s office.
“These matters are determined by the facts,” Fitz said. “We are moving ahead toward the May hearing date, where the court will determine what the appropriate and just decision is at that time.”
At the moment, Rangel said he is focused on beating the probation violation charges against him — if convicted, he faces prison time — and has not considered pressing any civil charges against law enforcement regarding discrimination due to his HIV status. He is also considering following his attorney’s recommendations and finding additional legal counsel ahead of his hearing next month.
In spite of the fallout since his discharge from the program, the Dowagiac man still said he was grateful for the support the treatment program gave him over the past year, which has enabled him to beat his addiction to drugs.
“I’m super grateful for this program,” Rangel said. “I’m 13-months sober and I’ve never felt better in my life.”