A Brookhaven official’s claim that suspects have bitten and spit at police officers with the intent of transmitting COVID-19 was not entirely accurate and lacked some context of mental health issues, according to reports of the incidents.

“We have had three arrest situations where the arrestees have tried to bite or spit [at] our officers while acknowledging they have the COVID-19 or believe they have it,” City Manager Christian Sigman told the City Council at its April 15 meeting. “Our officers are being monitored and no one has shown any symptoms or tested positive.”

The official reports for those three incidents, provided by the Brookhaven Police Department, tell different stories. None of the reports described suspects as directly threatening police with COVID-19 and no suspect is described as believing they had the coronavirus disease — though one suspect later proved to have a symptom.

The incidents involved suspects described as having mental health issues or as drunk. Rather than suspects intentionally terrorizing officers about COVID-19, the picture emerging from the reports is one of the pandemic adding a new layer of health fears to the frequent physical dangers and sometimes disgusting conditions of police work.

Contrary to Sigman’s description, no biting was reported in any of the cases. However, three of the cases involved saliva in amounts from a single spit to smearing of the body. In one case, a suspect spit inside the back of a patrol car and in a later screening had a fever, though the report gives no evidence he knew that at the time. In another case, a suspect allegedly spit at a police officer, but with no mention of COVID-19.

A third case involved a suspect with schizophrenia who was coughing on cars and door handles at an apartment complex and later wiped his saliva on himself. He reportedly mentioned the coronavirus — but expressed a desire to contract its disease, not to transmit it.

The three reports may not give a full picture of the conditions police officers are dealing with. Police department spokesperson Sgt. David Snively said the three reports were noted by a particular officer who is keeping track of such cases.

Some details of the three incidents are as follows:

March 26, Pacific Century Tower office building at 6 North Druid Hills Drive.

The incident involved a 43-year-old suspect known to police as someone who is “homeless and appears to have a mental disorder.” He allegedly yelled at a limo driver and banged on the vehicle’s hood, then spat on the ground near a security guard. He allegedly challenged officers and was grabbed, handcuffed and placed in the rear of a patrol car.

The arresting officer wrote that the suspect continued yelling at the guard and spat on the rear window. On the way to the DeKalb County jail, “he began to spit all over the rear of my patrol vehicle,” the officer wrote. Jail personnel screened the suspect for COVID-19 — a now-standard process — and found he had a fever with a temperature of 100.1 degrees. Jail staff refused to take the suspect, so he was instead transported to a hospital and released on written citations.

The patrol car was “decontaminated” at police headquarters, according to the report.

April 4, Parke Towne North apartments, 1351 North Cliff Valley Way.

A 20-year-old man had been kicked out of his family home allegedly for being drunk and belligerent. He then allegedly attempted to break in. According to the police report, officers saw the suspect kicking and breaking a window. He also had cuts on his hands and forearms. He was “intoxicated,” yelling profanities and “challenging people to fight him,” and was handcuffed, according to the police report.

While the suspect was standing with an officer next to a patrol car, he recognized another officer from a previous arrested and “attempted to spit” on him, the report says. The officer dodged the spit. There was no reference to COVID-19 or the coronavirus.

April 8, Parke Towne North apartments, 1335 North Cliff Valley Way.

A mother called the police about her 23-year-old son, who has schizophrenia and had been off medication for eight days. “She said that he was walking up to cars and coughing at them [and] asking them to give him the coronavirus,” according to the police report.

Staff at the apartment leasing office said they had received complaints about the suspect also coughing on apartment door handles. Police said the suspect’s behavior was “causing people to fear for their own safety during this COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.”

Police officers observed the suspect walking backward and “licking his hands and wiping his saliva on his face and stomach.” They said he did not cooperate, so they grabbed and handcuffed him. They called EMTs, who injected the suspect with a sedative. He was taken to a hospital for evaluation.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.