By Russell Hixson
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Defense attorneys are fighting to have the identify of a former Payne County inmate who is HIV positive revealed.
The inmate is suing the Payne County jail alleging he was mistreated because of his illness. The jail’s legal counsel argues the plaintiff’s privacy interests are outweighed by the responsibility to maintain open courts.
Attorneys are also arguing that the anonymous plaintiff has gone to media outlets and filed the suit voluntarily and should not remain shielded while the defendants are degraded publicly.
According to court records, the anonymous Payne County resident, referred to as “John Doe,” alleges the jail put him in an isolation cell because of his health status.
The man further alleges the jail allowed him to go 11 days without his HIV medication after his two bottles ran out.
Attorneys for the county have objected to the plaintiff’s request to proceed through the rest of the case under a fake name.
His identity is hidden by a temporary protective order put in place by a judge as the issue awaits a ruling.
“The plaintiff should be prepared to accept the public scrutiny that is an inherent part of public trials,” read the defense’s objection. “The plaintiff shouldn’t be allowed to go around publicly degrading the defendants in the media and elsewhere while he comfortably hides behind the cloak of ‘John Doe.’”
The defense asked the court to deny the plaintiff’s request to proceed anonymously. Court records show the motion is set to be heard by a judge on May 13.
Doe’s attorney, Spencer Bryan, said his client wishes to remain anonymous because of historic stigmatization of those with HIV.
“The fact that someone is HIV positive is no longer considered a social stigma as was the case in the early years of the disease when it was not understood,” states the defense’s objection.
It goes on to say high-profile HIV positive individuals like Magic Johnson have desensitized the American public to the disease, and allowing the anonymous lawsuit only propagates the view that a person who is HIV positive is to be feared.
RAIN Oklahoma is an Oklahoma City nonprofit that serves approximately 700 affected by HIV/AIDS. RAIN Executive Director Julie Lovegrove said the country has made great progress in understanding, recognizing and treating the disease.
Many of the program’s clients are able to live normal lives and have jobs at a variety of levels of society.
“Many of you may very well be sitting next to someone who is HIV positive and be totally unaware,” she said.
But society has a long way to go. Lovegrove said there is a stereotype associated with HIV/AIDS that is similar to a caricature.
“They did not get this disease because they were bad or amoral,” Lovegrove said.
Every year, the program has clients who are terminated by their employer because those around them found out about their illness. But this is very difficult to prove, Lovegrove said.
She hopes in the future HIV/AIDS patients will feel less fear about being open about their illness.