Judge orders transfer of dozens out of government quarantine facility

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Pacific Daily News

A Superior Court judge has determined that the Department of Public Health and Social Services did not follow the law when quarantining travelers, and appointed the Public Defender Service Corporation to represent all incoming passengers.

Multiple passengers have filed legal action against the government’s quarantine policy, which Superior Court of Guam Judge Elyze Iriarte found was not voluntary. 

After hearing from people held in the government quarantine facility, Iriarte determined some passengers did not quarantine voluntarily, and the department held one woman against her will.

‘Trying to make sure their rights are preserved’

The violations prompted Iriarte to transfer passengers out of the government quarantine facility.  

“We’ve heard testimony after testimony of people that you claim are voluntarily quarantined saying that they haven’t,” Iriarte said on Thursday. “The outcome of that has been the 30 or so cases that are being filed in this court and we’re trying to make sure their rights are being preserved.”

She ordered the public defender’s office to represent passengers to ensure they are being advised of their rights.

More: Public Health issues new quarantine guidelines for arriving passengers

More: Residents get back to shopping and dining following lifted restrictions

“The current system that you have in place, I’m sorry but Public Health is not doing its job in notifying these persons. They’re not qualified or they’re not conveying it correctly,” Iriarte said.  

After a Guam Customs and Quarantine Agency officer had flown home on Sept. 1, he and his family were placed in a hotel contracted to be a government of Guam’s quarantine facility. The officer took the issue to court on Sept. 9, and several other passengers followed suit.

Iriarte found Customs officer Eugene Igros didn’t get a written directive which was to have information about the disease and quarantine timeline. This is required by law.

In another case, Iriarte found a woman was held against her will. Janella Cruz also took Public Health to court over the quarantine imposed on her and her two sons.

At the time, Public Health was using guidance memo 2020-11 Rev7, which said unaccompanied minors are to complete a 14-day quarantine at the GovGuam facility regardless of test results.

The guidance said parents of minors are to sign a voluntary quarantine acknowledgment form and must identify the person who will provide adult supervision and stay with unaccompanied minors at the GovGuam facilities.

‘Confined against her will’

Cruz, a licensed nurse, and her husband, a respiratory therapist, were told by Public Health that their sons would be able to quarantine at home, court documents state.

When the two arrived, a Public Health official told Cruz the boys have to be transferred to a government facility for 14 days, and either Cruz or her husband must enter with them or the boys would be placed with strangers.

The Public Health Director testified if a parent of an unaccompanied minor refuses to enter quarantine, Child Protective Services assumes custody of the child, court documents stated.

So Cruz entered quarantine with her children rather than have her children placed under the custody of strangers, documents stated.

Cruz then filed the lawsuit. Iriarte found Cruz didn’t get information about her rights from Public Health.

“Cruz also signed a voluntary quarantine letter under the pressure of DPHSS officials,” Iriarte stated.

Cruz didn’t consent to DPHSS’ seizure of her children in quarantine nor did Cruz have an opportunity to explain her preference, Iriarte stated.

“For at least 10 days, she was confined against her will without a meaningful and prompt opportunity to be heard regarding such confinement and not advised of her right to counsel,” Iriarte wrote in her decision to release Cruz and her children from the government facility.

Iriarte said the DPHSS memo Rev7 violated Cruz’s constitutional rights to due process.

Public Health has since revised the memo.

Coerced into signing voluntary quarantine document

Like Igros, traveler Sean Convento on Sept. 16 filed a petition in court over his quarantine placement. Public Health didn’t give Convento a written directive either, Iriarte found.

The law also states that Public Health is supposed to file a petition with the court for a court order authorizing the continued quarantine of a person within 10 days of giving the written directive.

No such petition was filed for Convento, who had been in the government facility for 11 days. Iriarte determined Public Health “completely disregarded” the petition for Convento’s continued quarantine.

She ordered Public Health to transfer Convento from the government quarantine facility, finding Public Health “held him in excess of statutory limitations.”

Resident Christina Pang also filed a petition against Public Health. She flew in from Manila on Sept. 12.

She received a form that read “voluntary quarantine” and filled her home address on the form. When she submitted the form, they crossed out her address and told her she’d be quarantined at the Dusit Thani Beach Resort.

“It didn’t feel like a voluntary quarantine,” Pang said. “It’s been so stressful being here.”

Pang also wasn’t given a written directive and Public Health also didn’t file a petition for continued quarantine within 10 days, Iriarte found.

 “Pang did not agree to voluntarily quarantine but rather was coerced into signing voluntary quarantine documents without being advised of her options or rights to object to quarantine,” Iriarte stated.

Pang was transferred out of the government facility to finish her quarantine period at home.

‘He did not quarantine voluntarily’

UFC Fighter Trevin Jones returned to Guam on Sept. 16 from Las Vegas and was also given forms to fill out at the airport. He asked four people about quarantine and said one person in a military uniform at the airport told him he could be arrested if he didn’t comply.

“I didn’t feel like I had a choice,” Jones testified.  

After taking a day to review Jones’ case, Iriarte decided to transfer him out of the government facility.

“He did not quarantine voluntarily,” Iriarte said. “Although he received forms and may have signed voluntary quarantine forms, he was told that he had to go into government quarantine. The court finds that the government did not procure his voluntary quarantine.”

Like other passengers, Jones also didn’t get a written directive.

As Iriarte settled one passenger’s case, she would call another passenger’s case, while, in the same hearing, lawyers alerted her to new cases they filed on behalf of more passengers.

Petitions were filed for 47 passengers who arrived on Sept. 12 and more passengers who arrived from Sept. 13  through Sept. 20.

On Friday, Iriarte issued a decision to settle cases of those travelers, based on mass testing that Assistant Attorney General James Canto II said took place on Friday.

Iriarte decided that passengers who arrived on Sept. 12 through Sept. 20 and who tested negative from Friday’s mass testing could be transferred to their homes or lodging for the rest of their 14-day quarantine periods. Those who refused testing would have to remain in the government facility.

Non-compliance with government quarantine

Iriarte weighed the fact that others under home quarantine before had been noncompliant with Public Health orders and the change in quarantine guidelines issued just this week.

Dr. Felix Cabrera, who is part of the group of doctors who advises the governor about the virus, said in August, at least 400 people who were supposed to be in home quarantine were not complying or had given out incorrect contact information so Public Health couldn’t reach them.

On Thursday, the governor announced travelers will have to quarantine at the government facility but could be transferred to home quarantine for the rest of the 14-day period if they take a test on Day 6 and it’s negative.

While Iriarte’s decisions on Friday settle cases for dozens of travelers currently in government quarantine, there’s still more legal heavy lifting to be done. Lawyers are scheduled to meet again on Monday for a continuation of last week’s hearings. One issue the lawyers still have to parse is GovGuam’s motion for Iriarte to reconsider her earlier decision.

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