A Washington state woman who has been diagnosed with tuberculosis and refused numerous orders to isolate was spotted boarding a bus to a casino by an officer who had been tailing her and had a warrant for her arrest, according to a court filing obtained Wednesday.
Instead of arresting the woman, identified only as V.N. in documents filed in Pierce County Superior Court, the officer let her go and a local judge found her in contempt.
On Friday, Judge Philip K. Sorenson ordered that she be seized and treated against her will, online records show.
Authorities haven’t been able to find her, a Pierce County sheriff's spokesman said in an email.
Tuberculosis, which once killed millions of people worldwide but declined to nearly 7,900 cases in the U.S. in 2021, can be deadly if left untreated. The bacterium that causes tuberculosis is spread through the air when a person with an active case coughs, sneezes or speaks.
It isn’t clear which casino V.N. went to or why the officer, who wasn’t identified in the filing, didn’t take her into custody. According to a declaration filed with the court from Patricia Jackson, the chief of the Pierce County Corrections Bureau, the officer had been tasked with surveilling the woman to execute the warrant “in a safe manner.”
“The officer began surveillance promptly following receipt of the warrant in March 2023 and observed a person they believed to be Respondent leave her residence, get onto a city bus, and arrive at a local casino,” Jackson said.
The officer continued to surveil V.N. but found she wasn’t home, Jackson said. V.N.’s relatives were unresponsive, Jackson said, and she told the officer to stop surveilling her.
“It is believed that the Respondent is actively avoiding execution of the warrant,” Jackson said.
Jackson didn’t say why the officer didn’t take V.N. into custody or why she asked him to stop surveilling her.
The sheriff’s spokesman, Sgt. Darren Moss, said his office “won’t comment on how we conduct surveillance, when we do it or when we will attempt to make an arrest after that person is in custody.”
Moss added that the chief’s declaration was supposed to be sealed but wasn’t.
“By printing this story all the news agencies are basically telling the woman to continue avoiding us and tipping her off that we conducted surveillance on her,” he said.
Sarah Tofflemire, a court-appointed lawyer for the woman, said she had no information about the incident beyond what was in the filing.
Sorenson signed the arrest warrant last month, describing it as a last resort after public health officials asked him 16 times to order V.N. to take medication or isolate herself.
The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has declined to offer information about why the woman has steadfastly refused treatment. Under state law, public health officials have the legal authority to seek a court order when a person’s refusal to take medication poses a threat to the public.
In previous court filings obtained by The News Tribune of Tacoma, Tofflemire has said her client may be refusing to comply because she doesn't understand what is happening.
"She has not acknowledged the existence of her own medical condition,” Tofflemire said, adding, "She has primarily focused on how she dislikes papers coming to her home, and not the import of the process in which she finds herself."