Nushawn Williams, a 20-year-old infected with the virus that causes AIDS, apparently kept careful count of the women with whom he had sex.
“This guy is some kind of scorekeeper. He seems to take delight in keeping records. He has been fairly reliable in what he has given up to us,” said Robert Berke, health commissioner in rural Chautauqua County.
Williams, known to local high school students for selling marijuana and now in jail in New York City on charges of selling crack cocaine, had unprotected sex with at least 28 local women, the youngest of whom was 13, while passing the AIDS virus on to at least 10 of them, Berke said.
But Tuesday it became clear that he had not confined his sexual activities to this western New York county on the shores of Lake Erie. In an interview last week at Rikers Island jail, Williams told investigators the names of between 50 and 70 women he has had sex with in New York City, according to New York State Health Commissioner Barbara DeBuono. City health officials said the list may be somewhat shorter than that.
The phenomenon of a highly promiscuous AIDS carrier who allegedly ignores warnings about having unprotected sex and who adds up his victims is “the first of its kind” in the United States, according to Larry Gostin. Gostin is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center who advises the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on AIDS policy and the law.
Gostin and other health law experts said the Williams case raises vexing questions about how communities can protect themselves from disease-carrying sexual predators, as well as when police should be allowed to breach the confidentiality barrier that protects AIDS patients in order to arrest someone who is knowingly endangering the public.
“This is the quintessential case where law enforcement should be made aware of a threat to the public,” said Gostin.
Williams was publicly identified here Monday only after a local judge issued an order invoking the “imminent risk” exception to a 6-year-old New York law that guarantees the confidentiality of AIDS patients from police. That was the first time the exception had been invoked.
New York is one of only a handful of states with the “imminent risk” exception to strict confidentiality laws protecting the identity of AIDS carriers, according to Gostin.
Health education officials in Chautauqua County, which has won numerous national awards for its sex education programs that teach students as young as 7 how AIDS is transmitted, said the Williams case also is a sobering warning that information alone is not enough to influence the behavior of young people.
“We have done an excellent job in giving knowledge, but we clearly need to do more with the children about their attitudes and their values,” said Lynn Delevan. She is a regional health coordinator in western New York who for 10 years has organized sex education in 27 area school districts.
“This is a community that has been on top of this subject, and it still isn’t enough,” Delevan said. “We need parents to start finding out what their kids are thinking. We just can’t assume they are not engaging in risky behavior.”
Williams began having sex with young women in Chautauqua County sometime in the middle of 1996, meeting them in parks and playgrounds, according to health officials. The sheriff’s department is investigating allegations that he traded marijuana and other drugs for sex.
At Jamestown High School, about 18 miles west of here, Williams was well known to students as a marijuana dealer, according to Misty Freeman, 19, who graduated from the school last spring. “If you wanted pot, just go see this guy. Everybody knew him,” said Freeman, adding that she has a 15-year-old girlfriend who told her that she bought drugs from Williams and had unprotected sex with him. “She told me she is afraid to get tested.”