A South Florida courtroom was cleared Friday amid a brief Ebola scare caught on camera, after a man allegedly told police arresting him, “I have Ebola.”
Joseph Britton insisted in Broward County bond court as his police report was being read that officers had taken his remark out of context, just as Judge John Hurley advised his lawyer to back away, fast.
“Uh-oh, uh-oh. Mr. Miller, I’d back up pretty quick if I were you,” Hurley said. “I don't know. I don't know — what do we do?”
Hurley had just read something in the arrest report for Britton that had caught him off-guard.
“Mr. Britton, take a step to the right. This man claims he has Ebola,” Hurley read from the report, before he turned to a deputy in the courtroom. “Now, I believe you should clear the courtroom of all prisoners.”
While Britton was being arrested Thursday on charges of battery, disorderly conduct and resisting an officer, he told officers, “I have Ebola,” according to the police report.
After reading the report, Hurley ordered officials to clear the jailhouse courtroom. Inmates grumbled as they were ordered out of the room. "He's making it worse for everybody right now, man," one said.
All the while, Britton said the entire situation was a misunderstanding.
“The officer took it out of context,” Britton said.
According to Fort Lauderdale police, the officer who wrote the report was trying to document Britton’s intent to create a disturbance by claiming he had Ebola and making other expletive-filled exclamations.
Police arresting him didn't notice any symptoms that led them to believe he actually had Ebola, and Britton later denied making the claim, police said.
The Sun Sentinel reported that jailhouse deputies put on protective suits and the jail was locked down as the claims were investigated. It remained locked down until 3 p.m. while a contractor cleaned the spaces where Britton had been, the Sentinel reported.
In the end, it turned out the inmate had been checked out Thursday night and was cleared, but no one had told Judge Hurley.
“I am 99.99 percent sure that this person does not have Ebola,” Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said. “The screening questions were asked of this gentleman, the inmate, last night. There was no reason to be concerned based on his answers to several questions. So, he was put in a cell.”
That cell is where Britton remained Friday night after being cleared by health officials. His bond court appearance was rescheduled for Saturday.