Feb 1


Accused spitter stuck in legal limbo

Federal judge asks why prosecutors are pursuing case that’s held up deportation of a mentally ill man charged four years ago with spitting on federal detention center guards.

Charged with spitting on guards at a federal detention facility nearly four years ago, Samuel Boima is still locked up. And there’s no end in sight.

He’s a schizophrenic with convictions for armed robbery and assault. A final deportation order has been issued, an appeal denied. Sierra Leone, Boima’s native country, has granted travel documents.

Federal prosecutors in Buffalo are keeping him in the United States, according to a federal judge who has urged the U.S. attorney’s office to drop charges of assaulting federal officers so deportation proceedings can resume.

Boima in May 2020 spat while two guards at the Buffalo Federal Detention Center in Batavia were leaving his cell, with spittle landing on clothing and a guard’s neck, a deportation officer wrote in charging papers.

Until the case is over, immigration authorities can’t deport Boima, 34, and so he remains in a North Carolina psychiatric hospital run by the federal Bureau of Prisons.

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Found incompetent to stand trial in 2021, Boima has spent enough time in jail and a locked psychiatric cell, according to his lawyer and the presiding judge. His case is at a standstill until an appellate court decides whether Boima should be forcibly medicated so he can face trial.

Under federal law, defendants can’t be forcibly medicated unless there’s an important government interest at stake. Prosecutors say spitting is a serious crime.  

U.S. District Court Judge David G. Larimer has encouraged prosecutors to withdraw charges so Boima can be sent back to Sierra Leone. The criminal case could stretch years longer than any sentence Boima would receive if found guilty, Larimer wrote in a 2022 letter to Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Moynihan. The judge noted that no one was injured and wrote that spitting probably isn’t uncommon in prison settings.

“Boima has certainly paid the price already,” Larimer wrote. “I would suggest that the government’s interest in this prosecution is quite low. … The government needs to be practical.”

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Larimer repeated his concerns a few months later after hearing from a psychiatrist who testified that restoring competency could take as long as eight months if Boima gets medication.

“I wrote a letter to Mr. Moynihan, that I hoped would be shared with others in the office, that I really questioned whether this spitting incident from a person who obviously has some mental health issues was really a significant criminal event,” the judge said. “I assume the government wants to protect those who are employed at a federal facility. But in terms of the nature of criminal conduct, this seems, to me anyway, to be pretty far down the line.”

Despite misgivings about continued prosecution, Larimer in January 2023 granted the government’s request for administering medication by force. Rejecting defense arguments that Boima might otherwise suffer irreparable harm, the judge denied a request that forced medication be postponed pending appeal.

“Samuel Boima is sick with a serious mental disease and he needs treatment for it,” the judge wrote. “With respect to irreparable harm, one could certainly argue that in a literal sense, defendant is being ‘harmed’ by not being medicated. He needs treatment which is available to make him ‘better.’”

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals granted Boima’s request to postpone Larimer’s order until it decides whether psychotropic drugs should be forcibly administered. The court has set its first hearing in the case for March, more than a year after his lawyer appealed.

Boima has convictions in Maryland for assault, armed robbery, a misdemeanor sex offense, and failure to register as a sex offender. He was jailed in Maryland, charged with assault, reckless endangerment, illegal intoxication and giving false statements to police, when immigration authorities brought him to Western New York in September, 2019 to await deportation, a few months after Sierra Leone issued travel documents.

Since December 2021, Boima has been at a federal prison psychiatric hospital in Bahama, North Carolina. He hallucinates, giggles, talks to imaginary people and insists he’s charged with no crimes, a psychiatrist and psychologist testified in 2022. He claims to be president of the United States and never leaves his cell where two cameras keep watch 24/7, they said.

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During a 2022 hearing, Kristina Lloyd, a psychologist, told the court that Bomia believes that the judge and his lawyer are imposters dressed in costumes. 

“Not the kind of costume that you would wear for Halloween,” Lloyd explained. “Like a flesh costume, and that inside is a different person.”

Absent an important government interest in trying Boima, he can’t be forcibly medicated under federal law. If Boima isn’t medicated, through forced injection if necessary, prosecutors have said charges will be dismissed. 

Citing case law, prosecutors in a motion filed last fall say that they are trying to protect a “basic human need for security” by prosecuting Boima, so there’s an important government interest at stake.

“Indeed, for those who work in our detention or correctional facilities, the government is ‘seeking to protect the very integrity of our system of government,’” Assistant U.S. Attorney Tiffany H. Lee wrote, quoting from a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding a forced medication order for a man with access to guns who was charged with threatening to choke, rape and kill federal employees.

Spitting isn’t serious enough to merit forced medication, Martin Vogelbaum, Boima’s lawyer, argued in a motion to the Appellate Court filed last October. By then, Boima had spent more than three years awaiting trial for an offense that might well draw a sentence of less than three years under federal sentencing guidelines, Vogelbaum wrote.

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Echoing Larimer’s 2022 letter, Vogelbaum argued that Boima might be in Sierra Leone if he wasn’t charged with spitting on guards. If he wasn’t deported, his lawyer wrote, Boima could be civilly committed, and his criminal record would support keeping him confined. 

Federal  prosecutors in North Carolina last summer opened a case in civil court, saying Boima would be dangerous if released and so he should remain where he’s at if forcible medication isn’t mandated by a criminal court.

Forced medication might be in Boima’s best interest, Larimer said at the conclusion of the 2022 hearing.

“I’m wondering if I, if maybe I owe it to Mr. Boima, although he doesn’t want it, to get him some treatment which might, might, might make a difference,” the judge said. “It’s a sad case regardless. He’s obviously a sick person whose future does not look very rosy.”

Vogelbaum, Boima’s lawyer, could not be reached for comment. Investigative Post left messages with the U.S. Attorney’s office, which has yet to provide comment.

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