New Maryland bill could criminalize threats against health care workers

A new Maryland bill would criminalize threats against health care workers.

Dr. Travis Gayles, the former chief health officer in Montgomery County, spoke in support of the bill at a hearing Tuesday and shared a racist, explicit email he said he received during his time with the county.

"I was born in Silver Spring and the majority of my family is from there. You are the prime example why some white folks call black folks the n-bomb," read Gayles.

The email went on to call Gayles a "stupid primate," and contained a myriad of profanities that Gayles blanked out.

"Your mother needs to be smacked in the mouth for blank blank blank. I would say your dad needs blank blank blank too but we both know you don’t know him," Gayles read.

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House Bill 267 imposes penalties up to $500 and 90 days in prison for those who make or send "a threat to a public health official with the intent to intimidate, interfere with, or impede a public health official from performing the official's duties." The crime would be a misdemeanor offense.

While there are similar laws already in place to help protect elected leaders from threats, Del. Karen Lewis Young (D-Frederick) said penalties in this bill are not as great as for elected officials.

"If I have any regrets, it’s that I didn’t make the penalties stronger," said Young.

At the hearing Tuesday, Washington County Health Officer Earl Stoner also testified saying his children have been threatened.

"Personally, I have received written and verbal threats," Stoner said. "I've been harassed and intimidated in public. I had my child harassed at school. In response, I had to have a security system put in my home."


Threats against health officials and healthcare workers have surged during the pandemic due to people who don’t agree with COVID rules. 

But in Tuesday’s testimony, there were also examples of threats happening more generally. For example, people telling surgeons, "I’ll kill you if my family member doesn’t survive," and nurses being threatened by patients – or their families – with no consequences.

Del. Robin Grammer (R-Baltimore) questioned the potential for jail time and defended people who got angry at health officials during shutdowns. He says they felt their livelihoods were threatened.  

There are currently 35 other states that already have similar laws on the books.