Inmate Pleads Guilty in Ebola Hoax

An inmate in Cobb County, Georgia, north of Atlanta, pleaded guilty to charges of filing a false report for claiming he had visited Ebola-stricken countries after developing a fever and flu-like symptoms in custody.

Police pulled over 35-year-old Virginia native Harry Randall Withers, Jr. for DUI on October 3. While in custody, he fell ill, and he told jailers he had traveled to Africa. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution breathlessly reported the story back in October:

Withers developed a fever, had flu-like symptoms, and when questioned acknowledged that he had recently traveled to Africa, the Georgia Public Health Department and Cobb County officials said at a press conference Friday afternoon,.

Withers had been to Kenya and Nigeria, and had spent a few hours in Liberia, a country at the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. He flew into the United States through the Washington, D.C., area and landed at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

It remains unclear what he was doing in Cobb.

He was immediately placed into isolation at the jail and the Cobb-Douglas Heath Department was notified. He was then transferred to WellStar Kennestone Hospital.

The jail area where he was held was sanitized twice.

After Withers tested negative, officials learned that he had not been out of the country since 2005. His lie led to Ebola precautions taken at the jail, the hospital where he was transported, and for the ambulance company that transported him. They also led to three felony counts of filing a false report.

“We will not tolerate anyone manipulating the system like this and preying on our worst fears,” Deputy Chief ADA John Melvin, who prosecuted the case, said in a news release Thursday. “When you put the county and law enforcement through such a useless exercise as this, we will find out the truth.”

Cobb Superior Court Judge Robert E. Flournoy III sentenced Withers to 10 years, with one year to serve, though that sentence will be suspended upon Withers’ successful completion of a six-month inpatient drug rehabilitation program in Virginia. He was also ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution to the Cobb Sheriff’s Office.