A new arrival at the Butler County Prison told staff he had the coronavirus, and had tested positive at an out-of-county drive-through site.
The disclosure at about 5 a.m. Tuesday prompted prison officers and employees to initiate COVID-19 protocol.
Warden Joe DeMore said employees immediately donned protective equipment — including respirator masks, goggles and gloves. The staff also disinfected and sanitized the area touched by the incoming inmate, who was placed in medical isolation.
But the claim turned out to be a lie, according to authorities.
DeMore said a check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the suspect, Jason D. Whaples, 22, of Mars, had been tested, but the results showed he was negative for COVID-19.
County detectives Tuesday charged him with disorderly conduct, a third-degree misdemeanor.
DeMore said he's not quite sure why Whaples told the tall tale, whether the suspect was intoxicated, wanted to cause panic, or possibly get out of jail due to his supposed condition.
Whatever the reason, the warden was not pleased, given the COVID-19 crisis that has placed America and the world on edge.
He also had a message for other would-be copycats.
“We're taking this seriously,” DeMore said. “This isn't a time to make false claims, particularly when this is a countrywide pandemic.”
Whaples, meanwhile, is facing more serious charges, including three felonies, which led to his being committed to the prison.
Mars police said Whaples and his girlfriend, 19-year-old Hannah Napolitano-Plazek, of Mars, left his 3-year-old daughter home alone Monday night at Bell Towers Apartments, where the couple lives, to go drinking with neighbors.
Police were later called to the apartment complex about 11:30 p.m. for a disturbance. Officers found the couple in the hall and Whaples' child in the apartment. The girl was scared and crying, police said, and curled up in a corner.
Authorities said there were several open containers of alcohol in the apartment.
Butler County Children and Youth Services agency was called, police said, and while officers waited for a CYS representative to arrive for the girl, Whaples allegedly tried to get away.
Napolitano-Plazek is also accused of pushing an officer, and trying to help Whaples. When police tried to handcuff her, according to charging documents, Napolitano-Plazek kicked at several Adams Township police officers, who had been called to assist.
The defendants subsequently tried to escape from the police cars, police said. They also allegedly kicked and screamed while in custody, and bent the doors on the police cars.
At the police station, Whaples and Napolitano-Plazek — one more time — tried to escape after unlocking and opening the doors of the vehicles.
District Judge Kevin O'Donnell arraigned both defendants of felony charges of aggravated assault, escape, resisting arrest and child endangerment. Each is in the county prison on $50,000 bond.