TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Parole Commission on Wednesday voted to release a terminally ill Florida inmate born with HIV who bit a Collier County deputy in 2008 and sentenced to five years in prison.
By a 2-1 vote, the commission voted to grant a medical release to Betsie Gallardo, 27, who was diagnosed earlier this year with stage 4 cancer and is expected to live only a few more months. She was scheduled for release in May 2014 for biting Collier County Deputy Tracy Brown during an altercation at the Naples jail in 2008.
Gallardo’s mother, Jessica Bussert, has been trying to gain release for her Haitian-born daughter adopted 17 years ago, since Gallardo was diagnosed with gall bladder cancer that test showed in March had spread to her liver, ovaries and other organs.
A firefighter from Lafayette, Ind., Bussert asked commissioners to show compassion by allowing her to take her daughter home. Unable to grant an unconditional release, the commission instead will allow Gallardo to be released to a Miami hospice while seeking approval by Indiana correction officials to return.
“Quite frankly, my daughter should have received a harsh punishment. That is not in question,” Bussert said after the hearing. “The question is should it have been a life sentence and I don’t believe it should. I’m just asking for a few weeks to be with her. I want her last days to be around those who love her.”
The release came over the objections of law enforcement representatives, including the Collier County sheriff’s deputy Gallardo bit while in custody in Naples, following an intoxicated encounter following an arrest on child neglect charges that were later dropped.
Collier County Deputy Tracy Brown, bitten while restraining Gallardo to keep her from harming others, said in a letter to the commission that her life was turned upside down by the incident.
A mother, Brown said she has been forced to endure painful treatments and the mental anguish of knowing she might have become infected. Though she so far has tested negative, Brown said she’s also concerned about the long-term impact of the treatments themselves.
“I, along with others, suffer like Ms. Gallardo herself has suffered from her illness,” Brown wrote. “For this reason, I offer empathy for her situation and pray that you can feel empathy for my situation.”
Gallardo was arrested in August 2008 in Naples on a charge of child neglect after leaving her boyfriend's child home alone for more than 30 minutes. Prosecutors later dropped the child neglect charges but Gallardo was convicted of battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest with violence.
“I can sympathize with Ms. Gallardo and her current situation as well as her life before in Haiti but that does not dismiss the fact that she did commit a crime against another human being,” said Collier County sheriff’s office Sgt. Adam Schank, in a letter.
Florida law makes it a third-degree felony for HIV positive defendants to transfer body fluids in the commission of a violent act. Gallardo received the maximum five-year sentence and was scheduled for release in May 2014. She was serving her sentence in Broward Correctional Facility, but last week was moved to a secure area of the Kendall Regional Medical Center.
On Wednesday, the parole commission ordered that no contact be made with Brown or her family. Bussert said her daughter’s actions were indefensible and later offered an apology to Brown, her family and friends.
“From the bottom of my heart, I am sincerely sorry for the pain and suffering my daughter caused them,” Bussert said. “There is nothing I can do to take that away just like there is nothing I can do to take away my daughter’s cancer.”