Denver Drops Charges Against HIV+ Man

The Denver District Attorney’s office has announced it is dropping a charge of assault with a deadly weapon against an HIV-positive man for allegedly spitting at another man.  Lynn Kimbrough, a spokesperson for the Denver DA’s office, tells the Colorado Independent the charges were dismissed because the office was unsure it could prove, “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the alleged spitting was intent on transmitting HIV.


Kimbrough also told the Independent that the evidence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was abundantly clear: HIV is not transmitted by saliva. 

The case stems from a situation in which William O’Kelly allegedly spit on Jason Arb, a contractor from a business which installs monitoring equipment on vehicles. Arb alleges that O’Kelly became angry when he found out how much the court ordered equipment would cost him, and an argument ensued. During that argument, Arb says O’Kelly spit on him. 

But O’Kelly’s partner Geoff Guth, who was present at the time, says that was not the case. He tells the Independent that it was Arb who became aggressive during the argument. O’Kelly is on probation for drinking and driving. 

What is troubling in this situation is that while the DA has dropped the charge of using a deadly weapon, the DA is telegraphing he has no issue with charging an HIV-positive person with assault with a deadly weapon, provided he can prove intent. 

Even if I, as an HIV-positive person, scream, “I hope you get HIV!” as I spit on someone, it’s pretty illogical to argue intent. It is tantamount to charging someone with assault with a deadly weapon for holding up a drawing of a gun and saying “I hope you get shot!” Neither one poses a real, imminent threat, yet the hoping that someone will contract HIV will get you charged, while a drawing and a statement that you hope the person gets shot would not.

Isn’t that exactly what stigma looks like?

By the way, neither situation outlined above should get you charged either. There is that silly thing called the First Amendment which ought to protect you. That doesn’t mean it’s right to carry out either scenario, but people do stupid things all the time. And stupid is not a crime in America.

Todd A. Heywood is an investigative reporter based in Lansing, Michigan. He works for the American Independent News Network. He is HIV-positive and openly gay.

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