US surgeon general pleads not guilty to Hawaii citation

HONOLULU (AP) — A lawyer for U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams pleaded not guilty Monday on behalf of the official who was cited by Honolulu police for being in a closed park during a trip to help Hawaii cope with a spike in coronavirus cases.

Adams didn’t travel to Hawaii for the arraignment.

Adams’ aide Dennis Anderson-Villaluz, who was also cited in August, also pleaded not guilty to violating the emergency order.

When an officer found them, the mayor had closed all beach parks to prevent gatherings of people. Adams was taking photos at Kualoa Regional Park on Oahu’s northeastern coast, 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.

“It’s an embarrassment to the state,” Adams’ Honolulu defense attorney, Michael Green, said after Monday’s hearing. “They’re treating him like he brought the pandemic here.”

Government officials had waived for Adams a requirement that travelers to Hawaii quarantine for 14 days because he was helping the state, Green said.

“I’m not suggesting for a minute that because he’s the surgeon general … his rights are any greater than other citizen,” Green said. “But he shouldn’t be treated worse because of that status. And that’s exactly what they’re doing.”

Honolulu prosecutors said they will treat the case like any other. “No one is given special treatment under the law regardless of who they are,” said a statement from Deborah Kwan, a spokeswoman for the Honolulu prosecuting attorney’s office. “All defendants have the same right to due process as anyone else.”

Adams was in the park with his aide and a tour guide to see if he wanted to go for a swim, Green said, which was allowed. “I don’t even know if they can prove he took pictures,” Green said.

Violating any of the mayor’s emergency orders is punishable as a misdemeanor. If found guilty, Adams and his aide could face fines of up to $5,000, up to a year in jail, or both.

__ This version corrects the month Adams and his aide were cited. They were cited in August, not last month.

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