She was at work when the third round of blood test results came in. Why else would her doctor’s office be calling? But she couldn’t answer right then and would call back in two hours during her lunch break.
The harrowing wait set off another wave of worry and regret. Six months earlier, the woman had gone home with a man she’d met at a bar in Bethesda, had unprotected sex with him, and then found out he has HIV. She scrambled to her doctor’s office, reported the man to Montgomery County police, and — on Monday — went to court to tell a judge what Daniel G. Cleaves had done to her.
“Every time I go for the STD workup, I have an anxiety attack,” she said.
Montgomery Circuit Judge Joseph M. Quirk sentenced Cleaves to 18 months in jail for two counts of reckless endangerment involving two victims — saying that Cleaves should know about such fear. “You have had the personal, in-your-body knowledge of what pain that might inflict,” he said.
Cleaves’s attorney had asked for a shorter sentence, arguing in part that Cleaves had been taking the kind of antiretroviral drugs that greatly reduce the risk of spreading the virus. “He was acutely aware of the very low chances of anyone getting HIV,” said the attorney, Andy Jezic.
Since details of the case first surfaced last fall, media coverage focused on the behavior of Cleaves, 28, of Virginia, who has a history of alcohol and drug abuse and has struggled with mental illness. On different nights, he met women at Flanagan’s Harp & Fiddle in downtown Bethesda and did not tell them he was infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, before having unprotected sex with them. Then, after he was arrested and released from jail pending further hearings, he tried to get around court-ordered rules that he stay away from women, according to prosecutors, by employing a technical distinction of trying to hook up with a transgender individual.
But little has been said about the two victims. In an interview, one of the women agreed to discuss how she met Cleaves and dealt with the aftermath. “How do you know someone like him is taking medication regularly?” she said. “I thought I had HIV.”
The Washington Post generally does not identify victims of sexual crimes without their consent. Much of the woman’s account was confirmed by court records, detectives and Cleaves’s attorneys. She agreed to be interviewed to raise awareness of the case in the event that there may be other victims.
The activities of Friday night, July 25, 2014, were out of character for her. She regularly goes to church and Bible studies, but rarely to bars, and had never left with a person she had just met. But her close friend was having a good relationship with a man she had met a bar. “Maybe I should let my guard down a little,” she remembers thinking.
Inside the Harp & Fiddle, Cleaves approached her. They danced. He had an outgoing, seemingly honest bearing. Later, as they became intimate, he asked whether she was on birth control. She said yes. She asked him if he had any STD’s. He said no.
They ended up spending the next day together — even as his stories started to change. No, he really didn’t work for the Secret Service. And no, he and his roommate weren’t having an argument. In fact, he was entering an alcohol treatment program that Monday, and needed a place to stay until then. “I felt like I was helping someone,” she said.
But the program didn’t work out, and his stay extended another day. On Tuesday morning, a short time after Cleaves left her apartment, he called to ask her to get a copy of his birth certificate from his suitcase and meet him outside the apartment.
She found the birth certificate — as well what looked to be a medical discharge paper. Near the bottom, it showed Cleaves to be HIV-positive. “I just froze,” she remembered.
She snapped a photo of the document, brought the birth certificate to Cleaves and headed off toward work. In a parking lot, she sent him a text.
“Do you have hiv?” she asked, according to court documents in the case.
“No why?” Cleaves responded.
Then she texted him the photo of the discharge papers.
Cleaves switched gears.
“I should have told you and I am truly sorry,” he wrote. “I am not a criminal. I am not a bad person. I just made a mistake. . . . It doesn’t mean you have HIV, though.”
Cleaves texted her a link to an article on HIV medication and how it substantially curbs transmission. He gave the woman the number of an HIV specialist.
By then the woman was on her way to her physician’s office. While waiting in an exam room, she dropped to her knees to pray, sobbing uncontrollably.
She was prescribed drugs designed to ward off transmission. She gave a blood sample, repeating the test at three and six months later. Over that time — encouraged by negative tests — she slowly regained her emotional footing.
Assistant State’s Attorney Jessica Hall, who prosecuted the case, said that it was telling that even after the first victim confronted Cleaves, he had unprotected sex with a different woman. “He can’t control himself,” she said.
As the court case progressed, Cleaves’s attorney began submitting scientific papers to the court about medication and risk reduction. A plea deal was reached. The HIV-related counts, which make it illegal to “knowingly transfer or attempt to transfer” HIV to another person, were dropped. Cleaves pleaded guilty to two counts of reckless endangerment.
In court Monday, Jezic cited a recent Best Practices Guide from the U.S. Justice Department, questioning whether states should still have HIV laws like the one in Maryland, given medical advances. Cleaves also spoke.
At first he was apologetic. “I don’t think I can explain how extremely sorry I am for the victims,” he said.
Then he said he didn’t think he belonged in jail. “I didn’t tell her I was positive because I was drinking and doing all this crazy stuff,” he said.
It was Quirk, the judge, who had the final word, telling Cleaves he didn’t have the right to withhold his HIV-positive status from women before they made the decision to have sex with him.
“You deprived them of that choice,” he said.