St. Thomas district Sen. Marvin Blyden pleaded not guilty Friday to a charge that he exposed people attending a gathering to the COVID-19 virus.
The single misdemeanor charge arose from an investigation conducted by the Justice Department after authorities learned that Blyden had tested positive for the coronavirus.
He was advised of his rights and arraigned before Superior Court Judge Henry Carr III in a virtual hearing held by teleconference. Defense Attorney Dwayne Henry sat beside the defendant, both wearing masks, in a room that appeared to be the Senate chambers.
Blyden – who had been previously vaccinated against COVID-19 – pleaded not guilty to the charge of exposure in a public place while infected with a contagious disease. He was released on his personal recognizance after Carr recited conditions set by the court for the senator’s pretrial release.
According to court documents, Blyden was under public health orders to quarantine himself after receiving a positive COVID-19 test result. Instead, he left home and attended an event at Tillett Gardens on or about Sept. 18, potentially exposing others to the virus.
Blyden subsequently issued a public apology, saying he would not intentionally endanger anyone’s health. But on Sept. 25, a summons was issued, advising him that a criminal charge was lodged against him and ordering him to appear in court.
Attorney Henry told the court his client wanted to challenge the probable cause asserted by the investigator assigned to the case. But the magistrate refused, saying because Blyden came to court on the order of a criminal complaint and summons, no challenge would be accepted at that time.
Before the brief appearance ended, Carr read off the stated offense and a list of actions the defendant must take to remain free on his own recognizance pending trial. He was ordered not to have contact with the victim in the case, was told to surrender his passport but allowed to keep his licensed firearm.
“And most importantly, and of concern to this court, you must comply with, adhere to and obey all health laws in the Virgin Islands,” Carr said.
That was the only time Blyden spoke, when the magistrate asked him if he understood what he was told.
“Yes, your honor,” the senator said.
The order to surrender all travel documents except for a driver’s license came on the same day a statement was issued from Blyden’s office disputing an earlier media report about a scheduled off-island trip that was to take place around the same time as the Tillett get- together.
Blyden said he was consulting with officials at the Department of Health on Sept. 17 about his ability to travel. He said the communication came up as part of a decision to change his travel plans.
He also criticized a local media outlet for reporting otherwise.
If found guilty at trial, Blyden faces a maximum penalty of a fine and up to a year in jail. The case was assigned for trial to Superior Court Judge Kathleen Mackay.