Convict released early in California flew home to Alaska a day after testing positive for COVID-19

Aerial photograph of Reservation Point on Terminal Island, with the prison in the top right. (Porfirio Alejandro Díaz/Creative Commons)

A man released from a California prison tested positive for coronavirus one day before prison officials sent him home to Alaska on a commercial flight.

That’s according to documentation of Duane Fields’ test results, which Fields provided to Alaska Public Media, and criminal charges federal prosecutors have filed against him.

The charges allege Fields violated a court order to follow Alaska’s health mandate to quarantine for two weeks after arriving in the state. Federal prosecutors are trying to have him locked up again, and presented evidence that Fields is no longer contagious so that the Alaska Department of Corrections would agree to jail him

Fields blames his release paperwork and his parole officer, and he’s fighting the charges, which include a felony.

In a court filing Thursday, Fields’ lawyer wrote: “If this were an episode of Dateline, it would be titled “The United States Government Gave Him COVID-19; Now They Want Him In Jail For It.”

It remains unclear why prison officials put Fields on a plane to Alaska after he tested positive for the virus. Fields says he was unaware of the test results until days after he arrived.

Fields had been serving time for a 2012 drug dealing conviction at Terminal Island, a minimum-security federal prison in San Pedro, California. A judge reduced his sentence to time served earlier this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, after Fields’ lawyers argued for “compassionate” early release because of his struggles with cancer while in prison.

An outbreak of coronavirus at the Terminal Island prison, infecting more than 1,000 inmates, has been described as the worst such outbreak at a federal penitentiary in the entire United States, according to the LA Times.

Fields’ documentation shows he was tested for coronavirus May 6. The positive result is dated May 7, but Fields was put on a plane to Alaska on May 8.

According to the charges, it wasn’t until May 11 that someone from the Terminal Island prison contacted Fields’ parole officer in Alaska to tell him about the positive test results. The parole officer eventually found Fields at his mother’s home — not where he was supposed to be quarantining, according to the charges — and delivered the news about the positive result.

In a phone interview, Fields said he has never had any symptoms of the virus, nor have his mother or daughter, with whom he has been in contact. In a court hearing Wednesday, Fields’ attorney, Cindy Franklin, said his mother and daughter have since tested negative.

Franklin, in a court filing Thursday defending her client, wrote that Fields’ positive test arose from his incarceration at Terminal Island.

“Whatever inconceivable negligence and incompetence amongst government agencies and officials occurred that led to the Government putting Mr. Fields on a plane with his positive COVID-19 results in their possession cannot be blamed on Mr. Fields,” Franklin wrote.

An emailed response from the Bureau of Prisons to a phone message seeking comment left at the Terminal Island prison did not explain the timing of Fields’ test results.

“The court ordered Duane Byron Fields to be released from the BOP’s custody as soon as his release plan could be implemented and travel arrangements made,” the email says.

Neither the Bureau of Prisons or the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alaska responded today Thursday to questions about the timing of Fields’ tests results.