Sen. Marvin Blyden, citing legislation passed by the V.I. Legislature in 1975, is seeking to enter a pre-trial intervention program on a misdemeanor criminal charge of exposing the public to a highly infectious disease.
Blyden was charged on Sept. 24 after an investigation revealed that he attended an event at Tillett Gardens on Sept. 18 on St. Thomas despite being under orders from the V.I. Health Department to quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 three days earlier.
If found guilty by a jury, Blyden faces a possible $200 fine and up to a year in prison, according to a news release issued by V.I. Attorney General Denise George at the time of his arrest. Instead, Blyden is proposing in a motion filed April 20 that he enter community service with My Brother’s Workshop or with the Malik Adams James Foundation, a nonprofit that works with COVID-19 relief efforts.
According to the motion that Blyden filed pro se, meaning he is representing himself, the Attorney General’s Office has agreed to the pre-trial intervention if he pays a $5,000 fine, to which he objects. Superior Court Judge Kathleen Mackay had not ruled on the matter as of Tuesday.
Under the law passed in 1975, the judge, not the prosecution, has jurisdiction to divert defendants to a program of community service so long as they do not have a prior criminal record and have not committed a violent crime, according to Blyden’s motion. The law also stipulates a $200 fine.
“The only remaining requirements are that Mr. Blyden appear in Court to waive the statute of limitations and his right to a speedy trial and for the Court to determine that Mr. Blyden would benefit from diversion and that diversion serves the community interest,” according to the motion.
“As this is a crime involving endangering the community by exposing them to a communicable disease, participation in a community program that requires direct interaction with the community is a particularly appropriate approach, as it will provide Mr. Blyden with the opportunity to work directly with those who were endangered by his actions,” the motion states.
“Further, the community interest is served by providing such an opportunity to learn from past mistakes and grow through gaining new perspectives from meeting diverse people; something Mr. Blyden’s participation in My Brother’s Workshop would accomplish. The statutory prerequisites have been met, and the Court should divert Mr. Blyden in accordance with the Legislature’s declaration of policy in section 4611 of title 5” of the V.I. Code, according to the motion.
Nothing in the legislation authorizes the attorney general to impose any burdens on a program participant, and furthermore, “the Attorney General has yet to explain where the Legislature granted the Attorney General the right to impose a $5,000 fine as a prerequisite of participating in this program,” according to Blyden’s motion.
Blyden has already faced sanctions by the V.I. Legislature. Just a night shy of Christmas Eve, his fellow senators passed Bill No. 34-0815, stripping him of his position as majority leader and imposing a 160-hour working suspension. The move followed an Ethics Committee investigation convened by Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory in late September and chaired by Sen. Milton Potter.
Blyden, who said around the time he was charged that he had taken three home tests that were negative for the virus before attending the event in September, pleaded not guilty in court on Oct. 1 and was released on his own recognizance.
Blyden issued a public apology two days after the gathering at Tillett Gardens, saying he would not intentionally endanger anyone’s health and calling his actions a “terrible lapse in judgment,” and blaming his “workaholic” tendencies and “pandemic fatigue.”
“I had a meeting scheduled for Saturday night with some potential investors who had already flown down for the meeting, and I let my desire for economic development opportunities for our people overcome my better judgment and common sense,” Blyden said in his apology but provided no further details about the meeting that reportedly included attending a gathering of about 70 people at Tillett Gardens.
“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. I am deeply sorry, and I humbly apologize to the people of the Virgin Islands,” Blyden wrote.
Blyden’s actions also drew condemnation from the Democratic Party of the Virgin Islands, which issued a statement in September. “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,” the party said.
“While we are sympathetic with his contracting the disease, as officials and leaders of government, we are expected to be more responsible. We must maintain proper standards and set appropriate examples in accordance with our Democratic national, state, and local policies,” the statement said.
Editor’s note: A prior version of this story said that Sen. Marvin Blyden was arrested on Sept. 24. He was not arrested, he was charged.