By Brenda Flanagan
“It’s really tragic. It’s really a dark stain on our state’s history,” said Udi Ofer, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.
The ACLU has filed a civil lawsuit charging Governor Christie last year violated nurse Kaci Hickox’s rights, essentially imprisoned her for almost three days inside a cold plastic tent, after she flew into Newark Airport via Brussels from Sierra Leone where Hickox had just volunteered at a health clinic during the West African Ebola epidemic.
“So this is the equivalent of throwing someone in jail for no legitimate reason. That’s what happened to her. She was treated like a criminal instead of being treated like someone who had just done a service to humanity,” Ofer continued.
New Jersey officials maintained Hickox was running a fever and detained her at an emergency quarantine tent outside University Hospital. Only hours before Governor Christie and New York Governor Cuomo had jointly announced a controversial Ebola quarantine policy that drew intense reaction from news media.
“We’re trying to be careful here. This is common sense. And the American public believes it is common sense and we’re not moving an inch. Our policy hasn’t changed and our policy will not change,” said Governor Christie during an interview at the time.
Ofer commented on Christie’s attitude, “there was so much bluster in the way he implemented this policy. What he followed was his political ambitions. So this is a classic case of government officials making decisions based on politics and fear instead of based on science and facts.”
Even in detention Hickox fought back with her cellphone calling reporters and texting photos from the tent.
“The reason she was put in the hospital in the first place is because she was running a high fever and was symptomatic,” Christie explained.
“On her first night there she was tested for Ebola and she was Ebola-free. She was tested again for Ebola the following day and she was Ebola-free. She was asymptomatic. She wasn’t at high risk of contracting Ebola. The federal govertment had cleared her,” explained Ofer.
Finally New Jersey health officials released Hickox, drove her back home to Northern Maine where she vowed to sue. Christie was unfazed. His reaction, “I’ve been sued lots of times before. Get in line. I’m ready to take it on.”
The ACLU complied, along with another firm, and will also challenge New Jersey’s Ebola isolation policy after the state sent mostly blacked-out documents about how it developed that protocol.
“The suit’s got a good chance. At best it was a good faith overzealous defense of the public and I think at worst it was a case of fear-mongering. It’s certainly a tough line for government to walk and I understand public officials are under a lot of pressure – because the public is very fearful but you’ve got to be rational,” said Seton Hall Law School Professor Jonathan Hafetz.
Hickox is asking for $250,000, that’s $2,000 an hour for her detention plus punitive damages. The Christie Administration has no comment because it’s pending litigation.