Lancaster County’s president judge stands by his decision to notify the public that a man arrested at a protest outside the Lancaster city police station a week ago said he had COVID-19.
Whether Julio Torres told a district judge he was infected at the time of his arrest or that he had been infected in the past is disputed.
Test results Torres later shared publicly would indicate he was likely not contagious at the protest. And he tested negative two days after his arrest, his attorney Hobie Crystle said Tuesday.
Since President Judge David Ashworth’s initial notification last week, Torres, 22, has denied saying he was presently infected. Through a statement issued by the community group Lancaster Stands Up, he maintains he said he had the disease in the past.
In a brief phone call Tuesday evening, a man who identified himself as Torres said it was “complicated” when asked about what he told the district judge, though he said the statement the group issued was true.
The call was disconnected and Torres could not be reached for further comment.
According to District Judge Scott Albert, Torres disclosed he was COVID positive during a video conference arraignment from Lancaster County Prison the morning of June 2.
Lancaster city police arrested Torres about 7:45 p.m. June 1 and charged him with riot, aggravated assault on police, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. Police said he threw objects at them and threw a barricade into the street.
According to Albert, he asked Torres at the arraignment why he was in the prison quarantine unit and Torres said it was because he had COVID.
Torres, responding to Albert's questions, said he was tested May 27 at Clipper Magazine Stadium and was told to self-quarantine for two weeks. The results Torres made public later show he was tested much earlier in the month, on May 7, meaning his quarantine period could have been over well before the protest.
Albert asked: And you decided to join protest instead of self-quarantining?
Torres did not reply, but hung his head down, according to Albert.
Albert's account was relayed in an email from Ashworth on Monday.
Video arraignments aren't recorded, nor are transcripts made.
Albert, reached on Tuesday, declined to comment, citing rules of judicial conduct. But he said Ashworth's recounting was “100% correct."
Torres, Crystle said, would like people to know he was not infected when he was at the protest.
As for the discrepancy between Albert's and Torres' accounts, Crystle said, “I would just have to believe it was a misinterpretation ... I am sure that's what Judge Albert heard."
His client is soft-spoken, he said.
Ashworth, citing the potential health risk to the estimated 250 protesters and law enforcement, notified LancasterOnline | LNP about Torres having COVID.
"I made the decision that waiting until further testing was performed would not be in everyone’s best interest. I felt time was of the essence. I stand by that decision," Ashworth said Monday.
Ashworth said the COVID issue was only known to the judicial system because of Torre’s disclosure. “Had Mr. Torres not self-reported that he was COVID positive, no one would have ever known. Indeed, if he was over COVID as he now suggests, there would have been no reason for him to have raised the issue at all."
"Unfortunately, it has become all too frequent that COVID is being used as a tool by those who are arrested in an attempt not to be incarcerated or to be released," he said.
Crystle acknowledged that possibility.
"I could see why someone might make it up, as Judge Ashworth said, to stay out of prison," he said.