Senate Majority Leader Marvin Blyden has been criminally charged for violating a Health Department quarantine order and “willfully exposing the public to a contagious disease after testing positive for Covid-19,” the V.I. Justice Department announced Saturday night.
Blyden was charged Friday with one count of Exposure in a Public Place, a violation of the Virgin Islands criminal code. If convicted, he would face a possible $200 fine and up to a year in prison, according to the news release from V.I. Attorney General Denise George.
Blyden is scheduled to appear in V.I. Superior Court Friday.
“No one is above the law, willfully exposing people from within our community to this potentially deadly communicable disease is not something that should be brushed aside. We all have a duty to protect our fellow Virgin Islanders and elected leaders are not exempt by status or position from following the law,” George said in a prepared statement.
Blyden did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily News on Saturday night.
In a statement released Sept. 20, Blyden admitted to and apologized for failing to follow the Health Department’s quarantine order.
Blyden, who is fully vaccinated, said he took a rapid antigen test at the V.I. Legislature on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 15, and again later that day at the Health Department, and both of them came back positive.
Blyden said he subsequently took three different rapid tests, administered at home, which showed negative results.
"I realized that either there had been some false positives on Tuesday, or that I had been an asymptomatic person who had already gone through the course of the disease and was in the very last days of the virus when I was tested on Tuesday," Blyden said in the statement.
Despite the fact that the Health Department had ordered him to quarantine until Sept. 25, Blyden said he proceeded to attend a scheduled meeting on the night of Sept. 18 with "potential investors who had already flown down for the meeting," where he may have affected scores of others.
"Regardless of what I believed or even knew, I should have followed the guidelines set by the Department of Health and the CDC. Plain and simple, regardless of my intentions, my actions were wrong," Blyden said in the statement.
According to the Justice Department statement issued Saturday night, community members “witnessed Senator Blyden out at an event at Tillett Gardens, on Sept. 18, 2021, when he should have been home quarantining.”
Government House Communications Director Richard Motta Jr. was questioned about the situation during a press conference Monday, and claimed the law was too vague for Blyden to face criminal charges.
"We don't have anything on the books legally that speaks to an individual who is violating a public health order, let's say, for example, an order by the Department of Health to quarantine for 10 days," Motta said.
The assertion was false.
According to V.I. Code, Title 14, Chapter 43, Subsection 886, "whoever willfully exposes himself or another afflicted with any contagious or infectious disease in any public place or thoroughfare, except in his necessary removal in a manner the least dangerous to the public health, shall be fined not more than $200 or imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both."
Although the section of the law was cited for Motta, he implied that Bryan's executive order supersedes it.
"We have what was put forward in the executive order, and you just read something from the Virgin Islands Code, that speaks to an infectious disease. It doesn't clearly define what that is, and what can be prosecuted by a court of law, in terms of, it doesn't provide any further guidelines other than what you read, so the law is vague and it needs to be clearly defined," Motta said.
The Justice Department filed the charge against Blyden Friday night “after a thorough investigation,” according to George.
Justice Department Special Agent Kisha Mitchell “worked closely with investigators from the Virgin Islands Department of Health and other agents from within the Department of Justice to investigate the allegations against Senator Blyden,” according to George’s statement.
A five-member ethics committee of the Legislature is also investigating Blyden’s actions. Under the Legislature’s rules, senators could choose to impose sanctions for unethical conduct, including expulsion from the body and loss of his $85,000 salary.
Sen. Milton Potter is serving as committee chairman. His brother, Vivian Edwardson “Ed” Potter, died of COVID-19 on Aug. 1 at age 68 — one of 69 people who have died of COVID-19 in the Virgin Islands since the pandemic began.
The V.I. Democratic Party also issued a statement Friday excoriating Blyden, who is one of the district’s top vote-getters.
State Chairman Cecil Benjamin said Blyden's actions "were totally irresponsible, inexcusable and unacceptable," according to the statement. "We emphatically, categorically, and unapologetically condemn Senator Blyden and others who willfully violate these standards and implore them to do better going forward because nothing is more important currently than the safety, health, security, and well-being of our people."