Leonard Peltier, the ailing 77-year-old Native American rights activist who has been pleading for help from prison amid coronavirus lockdowns and still hasn’t received a booster shot, has tested positive for COVID-19.
“Today, Leonard tested positive for COVID,” Peltier’s attorney Kevin Sharp told HuffPost late Friday. “We are all very concerned, as is Leonard. He wanted people to know that he sends his love and appreciation for the years everyone has fought for him. And should he make it through this, he intends to continue speaking out for Native rights.”
Peltier began feeling “like shit” on Thursday and had a “rough night” of painful and persistent coughing, Sharp said. “He told me, ‘I hope this is just a bad cold, but I have never had a cold like this before.’”
Peltier has now been placed in quarantine for 10 days.
Peltier has been in prison for 45 years without any evidence that he committed a crime. The FBI and U.S. Attorney Office charged him with the 1975 murders of two FBI agents during a shootout on a Native American reservation ― something he has long said he didn’t do, even when it meant he could have been paroled if he’d said he did. His trial was riddled with misconduct, and even the U.S. attorney who helped put Peltier in prison decades ago is now pleading with President Joe Biden to grant him clemency because, he says, federal officials never had evidence that he committed a crime.
He is still serving out two life sentences. Sharp said Friday that it’s obvious Peltier needs care that a Federal Bureau of Prisons medical unit can’t provide.
“Enough is enough. It’s time to send Leonard Peltier home to the care of an appropriate medical facility and the love and support of his family on the Turtle Mountain Reservation,” he said. “His unconstitutional conviction should not turn into a de facto death sentence.”
Peltier told HuffPost last week that his prison facility’s prolonged COVID-19 lockdowns and failure to provide him and other inmates with booster shots has left him ― and likely others ― unbearably isolated and preparing for death. He is particularly vulnerable to COVID given his serious health problems, which include diabetes and an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
“I’m in hell,” he told HuffPost. “Left alone and without attention is like a torture chamber for the sick and old.”
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), the chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, on Wednesday urged Biden to commute Peltier’s sentence and send him home, given his age, illness and time served.
“I commend your administration’s commitment to righting past wrongs in our criminal justice system,” Schatz wrote to Biden. “In continuing that work as you consider recommendations for individuals to receive clemency, I write to urge you to grant a commutation of Leonard Peltier’s sentence.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the former longtime chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the longest-serving member of the Senate, has also called on Biden to send Peltier home.
A spokesperson for the Federal Bureau of Prisons did not respond to a request for comment earlier Friday on why Peltier had not been transferred to in-home confinement given his age, declining health and time served.