DALLAS — The Dallas County prosecutor is considering whether to file criminal charges against Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who traveled from Monrovia to Dallas, where he was diagnosed with the deadly virus last week.
“We are looking at whether he intentionally and knowingly exposed the public to the virus,” said Debbie Denmon, a spokesperson for the Dallas County prosecutor’s office.
“It’s the issue of holding someone accountable, that you can’t just get on an airplane and lie on a travel document and get to the United States and lie on a hospital document,” she said.
Neighbors in Liberia said that Duncan had been in direct contact with a woman, who later died of Ebola. Duncan reportedly helped carry the 19-year-old woman, who was convulsing, to a nearby hospital. They said it was not clear whether Duncan knew the woman had Ebola before he left Liberia.
According to officials, Duncan reported on an airport screening questionnaire that he had had no contact with an Ebola patient. Before he left Liberia, officials checked his temperature at the airport. He had no fever. Authorities in Liberia said last week that they plan to prosecute Duncan for lying on the questionnaire.
Duncan landed in the United States on Sept. 20. He went to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas on Sept. 26 and had a temperature of 100.1. He told the nurse then that he had not been around anyone with Ebola. The hospital sent him home.
County officials said Monday that they will be analyzing procedures and what went wrong during the first visit Duncan made to the hospital.
Duncan returned to the hospital on Sept. 28, and he was diagnosed with Ebola and placed in isolation. He remains in critical condition and has begun receiving experimental treatments.
Denmon said the prosecutor’s office is debating whether to file aggravated assault charges against Duncan.
The case would be similar to other cases in which defendants have knowingly infected people with the HIV virus, she said.
“If he ends up being on his deathbed, it would be inhumane to file charges,” she said. “It’s a delicate situation.”
Denmon said the county prosecutor’s office received several complaints from citizens last week about the case.
“They see people in suits, covered head to toe on the news,” she said. “They hear reports of kids being sent home from school. That scared some people.”
She said the office has not assigned an official investigator to the case yet, which would be the first step in the process.
A charge of aggravated assault carries a sentence of two to 20 years.
“We are not where we can say this is a formal investigation,” she said.