Woman who refused tuberculosis treatment found in contempt of court weeks after arrest warrant

A Washington state woman who has repeatedly refused a judge’s order to take medication for tuberculosis remains at large weeks after a rarely used arrest warrant was issued.

The woman, identified in court documents as V.N., did not appear at a scheduled court hearing on Friday in Pierce County, south of Seattle.

V.N. was found to be in contempt of the court's orders. A warrant for her arrest remains in effect, according to court documents filed on Friday.

Once she is arrested, V.N. is ordered to be held at the Pierce County Jail for 45 days to receive testing and treatment for tuberculosis so that she no longer poses a threat to the public, the documents state.

A lawyer for the woman did not respond to requests for comment.

The next hearing is scheduled for June 23.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department in Washington. (Google Maps)
The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department in Washington. (Google Maps)

A spokesman for the county’s public health department declined to comment on the case ahead of the hearing and pointed to a previous statement saying the agency has the legal authority to compel people who pose a public health risk to comply with court orders.

A judge signed the warrant for V.N.’s arrest in March, after public health officials said they had asked the judge 16 times to order her to self-isolate or take medication for the illness, described in court filings as an active case of the disease.

Tuberculosis often damages the lungs and can be fatal. The disease is spread through the air when people cough or sneeze and can be cured with medication.

According to the The News Tribune of Tacoma, legal petitions from the Tacoma-Pierce County Public Health Department said V.N. had at one point started taking medication but then stopped.

V.N.’s condition isn’t clear. A May 10 petition from the department said an officer with the agency believes V.N. is still infected with the bacteria.

A court document filed last month showed that a sheriff’s deputy who had been surveilling the woman after the warrant was issued saw her boarding a bus to a casino.

The surveillance was revealed in a declaration filed with Pierce County Superior Court by Patricia Jackson, chief of the county’s corrections bureau.

Jackson said the deputy had been tasked with surveilling V.N. to execute the warrant “in a safe manner.” She did not say why V.N. wasn’t arrested or why she told the officer to stop watching V.N.

Sgt. Darren Moss, a spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, confirmed on Thursday that V.N. was not yet in custody but has declined to comment further on the case, saying his office “won’t comment on how we conduct surveillance, when we do it or when we will attempt to make an arrest until after that person is in custody.”

In another May 10 court filing, a legal assistant with the Tacoma-Pierce County Public Health Department said a person who identified himself as V.N.’s son called the office and asked if his mother had missed a court hearing.

He also asked for the next hearing date and for her lawyer’s information, according to the filing.

Nearly 100,000 cases of tuberculosis were recorded annually in the United States in the early 1950s. By 2021, that number had declined to 7,882, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pierce County sees roughly 20 active cases of the disease annually, according to the local public health department.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com