The Legislature’s Committee on Ethical Conduct announced Monday that “grounds exist to move forward with a formal disciplinary hearing” on a complaint that Senate Majority Leader Marvin Blyden violated a quarantine order after testing positive for COVID-19.
Blyden’s actions “unreasonably exposed the citizens you are supposed to serve” to being exposed to COVID-19, and “did in fact invoke emotions of fear in the community,” according to the committee’s six-page statement of alleged violations.
Under the Legislature’s rules, Blyden has up to 20 days to respond.
“Whether Senator Blyden chooses to formally answer to these charges or not, a disciplinary hearing will be held, and the Committee will make a final recommendation to the full body as to what punitive or corrective actions, if any, are most appropriate,” committee chairman Sen. Milton Potter said in a prepared statement.
“It is important to note that as an elected member of the Legislature, Senator Blyden is entitled to, and will continue to, receive a fair hearing on all charges.”
“As I have said before, as elected officials we must hold ourselves to a higher standard,” vice-chairman Sen. Kenneth Gittens added. “We would like to address this matter as quickly as possible, but we must follow the procedural Rules of the 34th Legislature. The sooner Senator Blyden answers these charges, the sooner we can bring this matter to final resolution.”
The three other committee members are Senators Dwayne DeGraff, Carla Joseph and Kurt Vialet.
The committee has charged Blyden with breaking the Legislature’s rules for decorum and ethical conduct, and violating his sworn Oath of Office, “in which elected officials swear to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the Virgin Islands,” according to a news release issued Monday.
Blyden first to be charged
Blyden was summoned via subpoena to appear before a judge on Oct. 1 to answer to a complaint filed by the V.I. Justice Department.
The complaint charged Blyden with “exposure in a public place while infected with contagious disease.”
In response to questions from The Daily News, Justice Department spokeswoman Sandra Goomansingh said there is “no record of any other persons charged” with that particular crime, making Blyden the first person ever to be charged under that section of the V.I. Code.
V.I. Attorney General Denise George declined to comment on whether Blyden could face additional charges, such as reckless endangerment.
Blyden tested positive for COVID-19 at the Legislature on Sept. 14, which required him to quarantine and participate in the Committee of the Whole remotely, so as not to infect other senators and their staff. He tested positive again at the Health Department the following day, and was ordered to quarantine until Sept. 25.
Instead, Blyden went to a concert at Tillett Gardens on St. Thomas on Sept. 18 “without clearance from the Department of Health, where there were approximately 70 persons in attendance,” according to the statement by the ethics committee.
“By your own admission, you were in attendance” and “attended based on your own determination that you tested ‘negative’ using a home self-test kit — yet you were not cleared as per CDC and Department of Health protocols.”
Blyden’s failure to quarantine “showed disrespect for the high offices of Senator and Majority Leader” and “constituted conduct that brings disgrace upon the good name of the Legislature,” the committee found.
The senators added that “your judgement was poor, which caused you to issue a public apology through a press release, dated Sept. 20.”
Under the Legislature’s rules, senators could choose to impose sanctions against Blyden for unethical conduct, including expulsion from the body and loss of his $85,000 salary.