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Riverhead gang member, released over COVID-19 fears, back in prison for not practicing social distancing

Just three days after a Riverhead woman was granted temporary release from federal prison over her fears of contracting the COVID-19 virus, a judge revoked the agreement after she was found to be violating social distancing guidelines.

Kotarra Jackson, 37, a known Bloods gang member with a long history of arrests in the Riverhead area, was granted temporary release on April 13 after her attorneys argued she suffers from obesity, asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure and sleep apnea and thus has increased medical risks associated with the outbreak of COVID-19.

As terms of her release, Judge Joanna Seybert required Ms. Jackson be tested for COVID-19 and remain in detention at her sister’s Mastic Beach home, unless going to court or an appointment with an attorney or doctor.

But hours after her release, Ms. Jackson, who was most recently arrested in November 2018 during an East End Drug Task Force raid in Riverhead and charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, was observed violating the terms of her condition.

After she was released just before 4 p.m. on Monday, April 13, members of the Suffolk County East End Drug Task Force observed Ms. Jackson outside smoking a cigarette around 6:30 p.m. and leaning into the window of a Jeep Cherokee to have a conversation. 

“At no point during these interactions was Jackson wearing personal protective equipment (“PPE”), a mask or practicing social distancing,” U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue wrote in a letter to Judge Joanna Seybert last Wednesday. “[Ms. Jackson] has clearly demonstrated that she cannot be trusted to follow social distancing practices.”

The following day, members of the drug task force and FBI observed Ms. Jackson leave the home with an unknown man to go to a liquor store off Montauk Highway near William Floyd Parkway, documents show. The vehicle was then involved in a minor accident in the parking lot of a deli in a Mastic strip mall and Ms. Jackson refused to give Suffolk County police officers her identification before returning home around 4:30 p.m.

Law enforcement photographed each interaction and during a call with pretrial services to begin installing electronic monitoring software, officials noticed background noise and asked Ms. Jackson about her whereabouts.

She told officials she was at the deli with her sister and they’d been in a car accident, adding that she wasn’t aware she was not permitted to leave home.

In their letter to Judge Seybert, prosecutors said Ms. Jackson blatantly disregarded the terms of her release, poses a danger to the community and is an increased flight risk.

“Setting aside the blatant, nonchalant violations of the terms of her home detention, Jackson has demonstrated clearly, and repeatedly, that her ‘concerns’ about her health and her ‘fears’ of contracting COVID-19 were nothing more than convenient lies to the Court in an effort to secure her release,” Mr. Donoghue wrote, adding that a woman who claimed to be concerned about COVID-19 due to her medical conditions, had repeatedly been observed smoking cigarettes.

Mr. Donoghue also cited her criminal history, which includes more than a dozen prior drug and assault convictions, as incentive to flee.

Judge Seybert revoked the release last Thursday and officials said Ms. Jackson surrendered Friday.

She is now back at the Metropolitan Detention Center awaiting trial.

In a letter requesting her release, defense attorney Anthony LaPinta noted that COVID-19 has been confirmed in both inmates and staff of the federal prison and that testing was largely nonexistent in the facility.

Mr. LaPinta said the court’s decision to revoke Ms. Jackson’s bail shows the seriousness of the pandemic.

“The court’s decision to quickly revoke Ms. Jackson’s bail and remand her back to custody demonstrates the serious and urgent need for social distancing and the wearing a mask when in public to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” he said in a statement.