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Press Release

Cleveland man charged with COVID-19 hoax

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Ohio

U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman announced today that a federal grand jury in Cleveland has returned a four-count indictment charging Walter Ray Poindexter, age 32, of Cleveland with false information and hoaxes.

According to court documents, on March 14, 2020, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) Police Officers responded to calls of an intoxicated individual aboard a downtown trolley, later identified as Poindexter. The defendant was subsequently arrested and transported to the Cuyahoga County Jail due to an outstanding warrant in Franklin County. During the processing of the defendant for public intoxication and a parole violation warrant, the defendant allegedly claimed that he had difficulty breathing and that he had the coronavirus. As the GCRTA officers attempted to carry the defendant into the jail, the defendant is accused of purposefully coughing into the police officers’ faces. The defendant is also accused of intentionally coughing in the direction of the Cuyahoga County Jail nurse after repeatedly claiming that he had coronavirus.

The defendant was then transferred to MetroHealth hospital for medical evaluation. Upon arrival in the emergency room, the defendant is alleged to have repeatedly claimed to have coronavirus and once again began coughing and spitting in the direction of the paramedics, police officers and hospital staff. It is alleged that while the paramedics attempted to move the defendant from the gurney to the hospital bed, the defendant sat up and spat directly in the face of a paramedic.

The defendant and paramedic were later administered a pathogen test that came back as negative for the virus.

An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt.  A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

If convicted, the defendant's sentence will be determined by the Court after review of factors unique to this case, including the defendant's prior criminal record, if any, the defendant's role in the offense and the characteristics of the violation.

In all cases, the sentence will not exceed the statutory maximum and in most cases it will be less than the maximum.

This case was investigated by the Cleveland Division of the FBI and the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority Police. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Om Kakani and Jerome J. Teresinski.                

Updated August 19, 2020