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Judge orders man to get COVID-19 vaccine as condition of probation to 'protect the community' — and threatens state prison time if probation is violated

Image source: WCPO-TV video screenshot, composite

An Ohio judge ordered a man to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot as a condition of his drug charge probation — and threatened him with up to 18 months in state prison if his probation is violated, WCPO-TV reported.

What are the details?

When 21-year-old Brandon Rutherford wore a face mask for his appearance in court last week, the station said he told Hamilton County Judge Christopher Wagner it was because he hadn't received a COVID-19 vaccine shot.

With that, Wagner ordered Rutherford to get vaccinated within 60 days as a condition of his probation, WCPO reported.

"I'm just a judge, not a doctor, but I think the vaccine's a lot safer than fentanyl, which is what you had in your pocket," Wagner told Rutherford, the station said, citing a transcript the court provided to the station. "You're going to maintain employment. You're not going to be around a firearm. I'm going to order you, within the next two months, to get a vaccine and show that to the probation office. Okay?"

Wagner offered the following statement to WCPO explaining the reason for his vaccine mandate: "The court's responsibility when issuing a community control sanction is to rehabilitate the defendant and protect the community. Judges make decisions regularly regarding a defendant's physical and mental health, such as ordering drug, alcohol, and mental health treatment."

Image source: WCPO-TV video screenshot

Prison threat

The station, citing the court hearing transcript, said Wagner threatened to send Rutherford to state prison for up to 18 months if he violated conditions of Community Control — commonly referred to as probation.

What did Rutherford have to say?

"I don't plan on getting [the COVID-19 vaccine shot]. I don't want it," Rutherford told WCPO in a subsequent interview. "So for him to tell me that I have to get it in order for me to not violate my probation is crazy. 'Cuz I'm just trying to do what I can to get off this as quickly as possible, like finding a job and everything else. But that little thing [the COVID-19 vaccine shot] can set me back."

Brandon RutherfordImage source: WCPO-TV video screenshot

The station said Rutherford added, "Because I don't take a shot they can send me to jail? I don't agree with that."

Rutherford's attorney, Carl Lewis, told WCPO he was "taken aback" by Wagner's order.

Attorney Carl LewisImage source: WCPO-TV video screenshot

"When you hear that, you're like 'whoa,'" Lewis noted to the station. "I don't think that judges are within their powers to do that."

Anything else?

Wagner said in his statement to WCPO that Rutherford and Lewis didn't object to his order during the sentencing hearing.

"We will have to see what happens now that the defendant is expressing opposition," the judge said in his statement, according to the station. "We might have to hold a hearing if the defendant has good reason not to take the vaccine. The defendant's attorney, as of now, is not asking for a hearing."

Lewis told WCPO he will request a hearing on the matter.

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