In a strongly worded two-page letter sent this afternoon to United States Attorney Nora Manella, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California demands that authorities at the United States Federal Detention Center in Los Angeles give detainee Peter McWilliams his AIDS medications. The ACLU says that failure to provide these necessary medications violates Title II of the American with Disabilities Act that the U. S. Supreme Court ruled this year applies to persons with HIV and AIDS and the incarcerated.
McWilliams was arrested July 23 after being indicted by a federal grand jury for paying the rent of a property authorities allege was used to cultivate marijuana for sale. McWilliams, a best-selling author of such books as Life 101, is a strong proponent of medical use of marijuana. The text of the letter follows:
"The ACLU Foundation of Southern California ("ACLU") is writing to express its grave concern that prison authorities of the Federal Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles are in apparent violation of numerous federal laws as well as the U.S. constitution, by failing to provide adequate medical services for detainee and acclaimed author Peter McWilliams, who is gravely ill with AIDS and cancer. As the accompanying letter from his physician sets forth, Mr. McWilliams' health, and indeed his life, depend on strict adherence to his medication schedule six times per day. As his physician makes clear, altering or even missing one dose of his medication poses a direct threat to Mr. McWilliams' health. Federal authorities, however, apparently have denied Mr. McWilliams his medication for more than five days, already more than thirty doses.
"Denial of adequate medical services to a person suffering from AIDS or cancer is a clear violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. ﾌ_ 12101 et seq. ans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. ﾌ_ 12101 et seq. ("ADA"). As you are no doubt aware, in a pair of decisions issued this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unequivocally that the ADA applies to correctional facilities and to persons suffering from AIDS or HIV. Pa. Dep't. of Corrections v. Yeskey, 118 S.Ct. 1952 (1998) (correctional facilities); Bragdon v. Abbott, 66 U.S.L.W. 4601 (1998) (AIDS and HIV).
"Denial of adequate medical treatment to persons with AIDS or cancer likewise violates several provisions of the Code of Federal Regulations. For example, 28 CFR 39.170 requires nondiscrimination on the basis of handicap in programs conducted by the Department of Justice. In addition, 28 CFR 549.18(k) requires the delivery of pharmaceuticals for the treatment of AIDS infected inmates.
"Mr. McWilliams is extremely ill and his daily regimen of HIV medication is his only hope. Even missing a single dose provides the virus an opportunity to advance and potentially to mutate into a form of HIV which no drug can treat. Having AIDS also makes Mr. McWilliams unusually susceptible to airborne infections such as tuberculosis. Moreover, the plastic shoes issued to him reportedly have cut into his feet, leaving an open sore, and hence with the dangerous potential for infection.
"An author with 5 appearances on the New York Times Bestseller List, Mr. McWilliams presents no risk of flight and no danger to the community, yet he is incarcerated in condi tions which pose a grave risk to his health and in which he is denied crucial medical treatment. Placing his health and life in such jeopardy would certainly appear to constitute a violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, as well as an infringement of his substantive due process rights to appropriate medical care while in the custody of the government.
"Given the urgency of the situation, the ACLU expects that federal authorities will take immediate steps to guarantee effective medical treatment for Mr. McWilliams. If the necessary medical regimen, as described by Mr. McWilliams' physician in the accompanying letter, is not implemented at once, we will have no choice but to take legal action to ensure that Mr. McWilliams' rights are protected. Please contact me tomorrow, Friday July 31st to discuss this matter."