AST arrests woman accused of shoplifting, making false claims of coronavirus

 Alaska State Troopers (KTUU News)
Alaska State Troopers (KTUU News) (KTUU)
Published: Mar. 26, 2020 at 5:37 PM AKDT
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A woman who was accused of shoplifting and told Alaska State Troopers she was suffering from a case of coronavirus was arrested this week at a 3 Bears store.

Alaska State Troopers said the case, which started with an alleged theft at the grocer off Pittman road, could've ended with the woman facing charges of terroristic threats. She rescinded her claim, however, and instead of facing a felony is imprisoned for lesser charges.

"The trooper interacting with her used their discretion dealing with the situation," wrote AST's Megan Peters in an email Thursday, "and gave her an opportunity to be truthful before it escalated to the point of her being charged with a felony."

Officials said in a dispatch that Elisa Johnson, 32, initially provided AST a false identity after she was "resisting being detailed by loss prevention" at 3 Bears. Johnson was reportedly arrested for theft, providing a false name, and three other warrants.

"Once in the patrol vehicle," Troopers wrote, "Johnson began to repeatedly inform arresting Troopers she had recently tested positive for COVID-19." From there, AST immediately began notification and decontamination procedures. Johnson eventually rescinded her claim, which officers confirmed, and she was remanded to Mat-Su pre-trial.

Making a false claim of infection of a highly communicable disease is considered terroristic threatening - in the second degree - and can prompt Class C Felony charges, punishable by imprisonment of up to five years and a fine of up to $50,000. Someone who knowingly "sends or delivers," including intentionally coughing, sneezing or spitting, a bacterial or biological substance that places a person in reasonable fear of injury, causes an evacuation or causes a serious public inconvenience commits terroristic threatening in the first degree. This is a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Troopers said Thursday that no one in the state of Alaska, to their knowledge, had been charged with terroristic threatening for false claims of being infected with the new coronavirus.

Additionally, Peters said, while AST continues to enforce the law, the agency is also closely following health mandates and guidelines as those continue to evolve.

"The public will notice some changes in terms of precautionary measures underway," she wrote, noting that the State of Alaska Department of Public Safety, which oversees Alaska State Troopers, is making changes including but not limited to limiting public access to facilities and canceling special events and contacts.

Still, the department will "continue providing critical public safety services to the people of Alaska... (but) If something does not require in-person contact," she said, "and can be dealt with in another manner, it will be."

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