Florida lawmakers responding to reports on The Michigan Messenger, The Florida Independent and Bilerico have intervened in the case of Betsie Gallardo.
Gallardo is an HIV-positive woman serving a five-year prison sentence for battery of a law enforcement agent. While Gallardo’s mother, Jessica Bussert, maintains Gallardo was convicted of spitting at a police officer, The Miami Herald reports that she was convicted of biting a police officer. Either way, the charges and punishment were much harsher than normal because Gallardo is HIV-positive, Catherine Hanssens of the Center for HIV Law and Policy in New York City tells the Herald.
The 27-year-old woman is dying of stage-four gall bladder cancer, which has spread to her intestines. The cancer has created an inoperable tumor that has blocked her intestines, making it impossible to eat or drink. Gallardo was reportedly not receiving any type of nutrition or hydration in the prison hospital.
Bussert went public on Dec. 23 in a move to get her daughter released from prison so she can die at home. Bussert says she has arranged hospice care for Gallardo in both Indiana, where the family is from, and in Florida — should Gallardo be too ill to travel.
On Dec. 23, Florida prison officials said Gallardo’s case would be reviewed in February — long after she is expected to die from the cancer.
But late on Dec. 24, Florida state Reps. Daphne Campbell, Hazelle Rogers, Ari Porth, Gwendolyn Clarke-Reed, Perry Thurston and Darryl Rouson, and state Sen. Christopher Smith (all Democrats) sent a letter to the Florida Parole Commission. That letter sought a compassionate release of Gallardo.
Bil Browning at Bilerico posted the full letter:
We urge the Commission to consider all the factors contributing to Betsie’s life challenges. She was born in Miami with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and 3 years later deserted in the slums of Haiti and a victim of human trafficking. Jessica reports that among the perpetrators who victimized her daughter was a Haitian police officer.
We understand that the Commission is not scheduled to meet again until February 24, 2011 and in accordance with Florida Administrative Code Chapter 23A-1.008, the Commission can convene an emergency meeting.
Browning further reports that Rep. Porth was contacted on Christmas day by Jason Welty of the Florida Department of Corrections. Welty reportedly informed the lawmaker that the parole commission with consider the compassionate release of Gallardo in its Jan. 5 hearing.
But that hearing may be too late as well. A Christmas Eve update from Bussert notes that while Gallardo is now receiving intravenous saline solution, she is still not receiving any I.V. nutrition and is growing weaker.