A Chinese businessman and a Jacksonville-based Navy officer and his wife, all jailed on federal charges involving a purported smuggling conspiracy, want a judge to reconsider their detention because of coronavirus health risks behind bars.
“[C]onfinement must not carry the risk of preventable death from disease,” defense attorney Edward Shohat argued in a motion filed last week for Ge Songtao, a businessman held at the Baker County jail.
Facing that risk without being convicted of any crime “must surely be shocking to the conscience of everyone and be unconstitutional,” he added.
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Ge was indicted in October along with Lt. Fan Yang and his wife, Yang Yang, on charges that centered on efforts to export inflatable boats and engines for Ge’s Shanghai Breeze Technology Co. while hiding the real recipients.
The indictment said Yang Yang had a consulting contract with Ge’s company and was its point of contact with an unnamed marine manufacturer in California, with Fan Yang advising her. Fan Yang, a Chinese-born U.S. citizen, was a naval flight officer with a top-secret security clearance assigned to the Maritime Patrol Reconnaissance Weapons School at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.
Ge’s attorney said his client has asthma and said that fits a World Health Organization standard for being at high risk from COVID-19, the disease the virus spreads.
“If inmates succumb to the virus and become critically ill, they will have to be sent to hospitals where hospital officials will have to decide who among the needy … will receive treatment. Does anyone really think prison inmates will get a fair shake in this process?” Shohat wrote in a request Thursday for Ge’s immediate release while awaiting trial.
Yang Yang’s attorney filed a separate request that same day.
“If the COVID-19 virus were to infect any staff or inmate of the Baker County Detention Center, it would be unable to provide needed medical care,” defense lawyer William Mallory Kent argued in a motion filed last week. “[I]t is barely able to provide basic medical care under normal circumstances.”
An attorney for Fan Yang, who is being held in the Nassau County jail, asked court permission on Sunday to adopt Ge’s request as his own.
The motions have appeared as people throughout the law enforcement system have pondered the right way to handle health risks the coronavirus poses to incarcerated people, with the State Attorney’s Office in Jacksonville outlining steps to reduce local jail populations.
All of the defense attorneys said federal prosecutors opposed their requests in the case, which will use information gathered under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
U.S. Magistrate James Klindt has given prosecutors until 5 p.m. Tuesday to respond to the motions.
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