Brandon Rutherford was recently presented with a dilemma in an Ohio courtroom: get vaccinated or face incarceration.
The 21-year-old was sentenced to two years probation for fentanyl possession by Judge Christopher Wagner of Hamilton County, Ohio on August 4, but his sentence came with a twist: he was ordered to get a COVID vaccine as a condition of his probation.
Should Rutherford fail to comply, he could be sent to jail for up to 18 months.
“I’m just a judge, not a doctor, but I think the vaccine’s a lot safer than fentanyl, which is what you had in your pocket,” Wagner told Rutherford.
Wagner gave Rutherford 60 days to get vaxxed and said, “You’re going to maintain employment. You’re not going to be around a firearm. I’m going to order you, within the next two months, to get a vaccine and show that to the probation office.”
The judge only knew Rutherford’s vaccination status in the first place because he questioned him when he arrived in court wearing a mask—a rule Wagner put in place for any unvaccinated people in his courtroom.
Rutherford was outraged by the mandate.
“Because I don’t take a shot they can send me to jail? I don’t agree with that,” he said. “I’m just trying to do what I can to get off this as quickly as possible, like finding a job and everything else. But that little thing (COVID vaccine) can set me back.”
The judge’s order created a stir, prompting Wagner to issue a response.
“Judges make decisions regularly regarding a defendant’s physical and mental health, such as ordering drug, alcohol, and mental health treatment,” he wrote in a statement. He also said it was his responsibility to “rehabilitate the defendant and protect the community.”
Wagner is not the only Ohio judge to take such actions. He joined judges in Franklin and Cuyahoga counties who made similar demands.