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FBI agent’s positive test shut courthouse

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

An FBI agent’s positive COVID-19 test on April 15 rippled through the criminal justice system, leading to the closure of the U.S. District Courthouse in Downtown Albuquerque for two days and forcing multiple co-workers, other agents and task force officers into quarantine.

Days later, on April 17, the Albuquerque Police Department said 39 officers and two civilian employees had been quarantined after coming into contact with a federal officer who had the virus during a “multiagency operation.”

FBI spokesman Frank Fisher would not say whether the two are related.

“The FBI is a family, and we are taking steps to protect our personnel and their loved ones,” he said in an emailed statement. “When we have reports of FBI employees who may have been exposed to COVID-19, require testing, quarantine or treatment, we are following CDC guidelines regarding notifications, medical actions and sanitation procedures.”

The revelations about the FBI agent’s positive test culminating in the quarantines and courthouse closure came to light in two coronavirus-related workplace safety complaints filed against the FBI’s Albuquerque office in the past month, the first alleging that protocols were not up to par with the governor’s public health order and the second, lodged weeks later, claiming a bureau agent returned to work after contracting the virus.

Special Agent in Charge James Langenberg disputed the claims. The referral has since been closed, with the New Mexico Environment Department deeming the response “satisfactory.”

On March 26, the NMED’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau sent the FBI a letter saying it had received a complaint from employees “concerned management is ignoring COVID-19 guidance/directives.” The letter did not outline specific complaints but asked that the FBI “immediately investigate” and “make any necessary corrections” to protect employees health.

In his March 27 response, Langenberg said the allegations lacked specificity, calling them “vague, capricious” and “totally without merit.”

Langenberg wrote in the letter that the FBI has followed every “national and statewide edict,” including having fewer employees in the office, keeping social distancing measures and making sure “enhanced cleaning” is done by a contracted company.

He wrote that, at that time, four employees had presumptive positive cases of COVID-19. At least two of those ultimately came back negative.

“I take this pandemic very seriously, in every single facet,” Langenberg wrote. “I am committed to keeping my employees healthy and safe so we can respond in times of crisis.”

On April 16, NMED received a referral that an agent who tested positive “a few days ago” was still coming to work and management had not notified employees, practiced social distancing in the office or provided personal protective equipment to other agents and staff.

On April 17, Langenberg responded in a letter calling the allegations false.

He wrote that the infected agent worked in the FBI office, in a “covert location” and at the federal courthouse before being tested for COVID-19 and had not returned to work since testing positive. The places where the agent had been in the office were roped off and cleaned, and the federal courthouse was closed for a “deep and thorough cleaning.” All employees the agent had contact with were instructed to get tested and not return to work until the results came back negative.

Additionally, Langenberg wrote that the office is abiding by social distancing guidelines and had distributed numerous N-95 masks, surgical masks and gloves to supervisors and employees by April 10.

After Langenberg’s response, NMED closed the case file.

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