St. John Valley

Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office says suspects are falsely claiming to have COVID-19

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — On Friday, Aroostook County Sheriff Shawn Gillen said law enforcement agencies across The County were battling a disturbing new trend — suspects falsely claiming they have COVID-19.

Gillen said he knew of three cases from around Aroostook County so far, and that those suspects seemed to make those claims to prevent officers from taking them into custody. While no charges have been filed against those individuals, Gillen said he and the Aroostook County District Attorney’s Office were “absolutely” prepared to file them against future false claimants. 

He said he put out Friday’s statement to discourage such behavior in the future, and to make a strong statement about potential criminal repercussions.

“It is not going to be tolerated,” Gillen said. “If we find out that you said that you had it, and we found out you’re lying, then we are going to proceed with the charges.”

Gillen said the statements were putting unnecessary stress on law enforcement and medical staff across Aroostook County because of the precautions required for those who make such claims. 

He said officers who interact with someone who is suspected of having COVID-19 will be quarantined, as is the suspect. He said that such unneeded actions put stress on local medical staff already attempting to contain a global pandemic.  

Potentially false COVID-19 claims are not the only way Gillen said the pandemic has affected his force. He said his officers are now required to be vigilant about whether people they interact with show signs of COVID-19, which can distract from other important policing matters.

“If you’re arresting somebody, and you are also worried about getting something from them and taking it back to your family, it’s always on your mind,” Gillen said. “It just makes the job much harder.”

Like many across the country, he said his office is operating largely remotely — through phone conferences, text messages and other non-physical forms of communication. All mail that comes through is being handled carefully with gloves.

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