Newly elected Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm has moved to dismiss the criminal cases against U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams and his aide after police cited the men for allegedly violating pandemic restrictions in August.
Alm said in a statement that a motion has been submitted to the court to dismiss charges against Adams and his aide, Dennis Anderson-Villaluz, for allegedly violating Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s Aug. 18 emergency proclamation, “Act Now Honolulu—No Social Gatherings.”
A judge will review the motion and determine whether the charges should be dropped.
“A prosecutor’s paramount goal is to do justice. After a careful review of the facts and law in this case, I have determined that further prosecution of this matter would not achieve that goal,” Alm said in a statement cited by local outlet KITV.
“This office’s resources are better spent prosecuting other offenses, including serious violations of the Mayor’s emergency orders that pose a real threat to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Alm added.
Adams and Anderson-Villaluz were stopped by Honolulu police officers as the men were getting back in their car after walking through part of Kualoa Regional Park to get to the ocean on Aug. 23.
A Honolulu police officer cited Adams after seeing him with two men “looking at the view taking pictures” at the park, KITV reports.
Adams was in Hawaii to help with COVID-19 testing efforts amid a surge in infections, with their detention by officers taking place less than 24 hours after they arrived in Honolulu.
Following an initial court hearing, prosecutors filed criminal misdemeanor charges against Adams and Anderson-Villaluz, with convictions punishable by up to a $5,000 fine or up to a year in jail, or both.
According to criminal complaints cited by the Honolulu Civil Beat, both men “did intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly enter or remain in a City and County of Honolulu park and/or botanical garden and/or State of Hawaii park within the City with intent, knowledge or reckless disregard of the substantial and unjustifiable risk.”
According to the citation, Adams told the officer he was visiting Hawaii to work with the governor on COVID-19 and didn’t know parks were closed.
Adams had been granted a government exemption from requirements that travelers to Hawaii quarantine for 14 days because he was helping the state, his attorney, Michael Green, said.
The two men entered not guilty pleas through their attorney at a Nov. 2 arraignment.
Green called the criminal charges “an embarrassment to the state.”
“I’m not suggesting for a minute that because he’s the surgeon general … his rights are any greater than (any) other citizen,” Green said in a statement. “But he shouldn’t be treated worse because of that status. And that’s exactly what they’re doing.”
Honolulu prosecutors had originally said they would treat the case like any other. “No one is given special treatment under the law regardless of who they are,” said a statement from the prosecuting attorney’s office last year.
In pursuing criminal charges against the pair, prosecutors would need to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Adams and Anderson-Villaluz “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” violated the mayor’s emergency orders at a time when all beach parks were closed to prevent large gatherings and curb the spread of COVID-19.
For Adams, who holds the rank of vice admiral in the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, a conviction could become a blemish with serious repercussions for his career.
Green said he spoke to Adams after the motion to dismiss was submitted Tuesday, saying the surgeon general “was thrilled” by the development.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.