JUNEAU — A federal magistrate judge has dismissed a criminal contempt complaint against a man who prosecutors had accused of violating a judge’s order and breaking Alaska quarantine rules after his early release from prison amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah M. Smith this week granted a request by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Anchorage to dismiss the case against Duane Byron Fields. Prosecutors in their request cited testimony from Daniel Poulson, an assistant federal defender who had represented Fields.
Poulson had successfully petitioned to have Fields' sentence in a drug-related case reduced and secured his early release from a prison in California that had been hit hard by the coronavirus. A judge's May 6 order granting the request cited the need for Fields to follow quarantine and other measures upon release.
But Poulson said he didn't believe Fields received that order. Fields was released from Federal Correctional Institution Terminal Island in California on May 8, according to court records.
Poulson did not notify the prison of the order or speak with Fields about it, according to Smith's ruling, which also says Poulson testified he had not had any phone calls with Fields since March due to contact and visitation restrictions at the prison.
Fields testified that because of the restrictions, he did not speak to anyone outside the prison between the end of March and his release, her ruling states.
"The evidence does not show there is probable cause to believe Fields's disobedience of the order was willful," Smith wrote.
Poulson, in response to a request for comment, confirmed to The Associated Press that he did not speak to Fields about the May 6 order or its conditions before Fields' release.
Chloe Martin, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Anchorage, by email said the admission by the federal defender's office "is especially concerning given the urgency to self-quarantine during a pandemic, and not only for their client's sake, but for the health and safety of our community."
Cindy Franklin, a private attorney appointed to represent Fields in the contempt case in place of the federal defender agency, said prosecutors are trying to blame Poulson when they brought a shoddy case. She called the dismissal the "right result."
Fields, who has battled cancer, was granted compassionate release by Senior U.S. District Judge James K. Singleton Jr. Singleton, in his May 6 order, said the court "may fashion an appropriate sanction" should Fields fail to follow quarantine or social distancing measures or any other condition of release.
Alaska then required people arriving in the state to quarantine for 14 days to help guard against spreading the coronavirus. Under quarantine, people are to leave their location only for medical emergencies or care.
Singleton's order stated the probation office was OK with Fields staying with his mother but noted she would require him to quarantine elsewhere first. Poulson indicated Fields could quarantine at an Anchorage hotel where Fields' daughter worked.
Smith, in her ruling, said when Fields boarded his flight for Anchorage, he carried a notice of release from the U.S. Department of Justice stating he was to be taken to his mother's home. He went there first, but later went to the hotel when his daughter came to get him. His daughter testified she had not had a chance to tell him about staying at the hotel before he returned to Alaska.
Smith said there were differences in the accounts of Fields and his daughter and that of Probation Officer Timothy Astle, including whether Fields was allowed to go to his mother's to get clothing. Astle said during calls with Fields there was buffering and periods of poor reception.
Astle found Fields at his mother's on May 11, when he learned Fields had tested positive for COVID-19 at the prison.
Franklin has said the test came back positive the day before Fields was allowed to travel to Alaska but no one told Fields the result.
The magistrate judge, Smith, said Fields' family members tested negative and there was no evidence he infected anyone.
Martin said officials continue to monitor Fields’ compliance with conditions of his supervision. Franklin said federal officials seem “absolutely determined that he is going to fail” when the probation department “has a responsibility to try to help him succeed.”