An arraignment was held for U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams and an aide for allegedly violating an emergency order while at a beach park on Oahu in late August during a COVID-19 emergency order-mandated closure of the island’s beach parks.
Attorney Michael Green, who is representing Adams and his aide, Dennis Anderson-Villaluz, entered a not-guilty plea on behalf of both men Monday before Circuit judge Shirley Kawamura at Circuit Court.
The court waived appearances for Adams and Anderson Villaluz, who were not present.
Trial is tentatively set for December.
Some attorneys who are not involved in the case believe a jury trial will not be held because the court system is dealing with a massive backlog and there are far more serious cases to tackle.
According to a complaint filed at court, prosecutors said Adams “did intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” enter or remain at a city park during the mayor’s COVID-19 emergency order.
At the time, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell closed Oahu’s beach parks to prevent crowd gatherings in response to a surge in coronavirus cases. During the closure, people were allowed to traverse beaches only to access the ocean.
Violation of an emergency order is considered a misdemeanor that carries penalties of up to a $5,000 fine, up to a year in jail or both.
In the Aug. 23 citation issued to Adams, a police officer observed Adams at Kualoa Regional Park in Kaneohe shortly before 10 a.m. standing with two other males, “looking at the view taking pictures.” The officer further stated in the citation that they moved to the center of the park, where they took more photos and “Adams put his mask on as he walked back toward his vehicle.”
Adams was in Hawaii helping the state with surge testing to reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. He told the officer he was working with the governor for COVID-19 and didn’t know the parks were closed.
Adams had sent an email to state officials requesting an exemption for Hawaii’s quarantine for travelers. An email that confirmed his exemption included links to county rules including the order closing beach parks on Oahu.
Green said Adams went to the park with his aide and was taking a picture while they were at the edge of the water. Adams decided not to go swimming and was walking toward his vehicle when police cited them.
“They act like he brought the pandemic here,” Green said outside of the courtroom after the arraignment ended. He described the case as an “embarrassment” to the people and citizens of Hawaii.
“I believe there’s a complete defense to what happened. The law allows him to go to the beach to see if he wants to go swimming,” he added.
“I’m just beside myself, and he’s just bewildered at what happened,” Green said. “I don’t think because he’s the surgeon general he has better rights or more rights than the average citizen, but don’t make it worse, and that’s what’s happening here.”
Hundreds of emergency order violation-related citations are getting dismissed, he said. “I’m hoping cooler heads will prevail and they’ll take a look at this and do the right thing for him.”
When asked why Adams’ case is being prosecuted when other cases have been dismissed, spokeswoman Deborah Kwan of the prosecutor’s office said, “Each case is unique and evaluated based on its individual set of facts.”
Of the case, attorney Brook Hart, who is not representing Adams or Anderson-Villaluz, said, “Seems like much ado about nothing and (a) needless waste of the court’s energy and time.”