A police officer rolling by Kualoa Regional Park in late August noticed three men near the shore, snapping photos of the jagged jungle mountains and cerulean seas on Oahu’s northeastern coast. The problem was, the park was closed under the island’s sweeping pandemic restrictions.
When the officer approached, one of the men explained that, actually, he’d traveled to the island to work directly with Hawaii Democratic Gov. David Ige on COVID-19 prevention. The officer was unmoved, citing the men for breaking the emergency orders.
It’s unclear, based on documents reviewed by The Washington Post, whether the officer knew that one of the men cited that day was actually the “Nation’s Doctor.”
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams now faces a remote court date on Oct. 21 to answer charges that he violated the emergency orders by entering the park, a misdemeanor offense that could result in up to a $5,000 fine, up to a year in jail or both, The Associated Press reported.
Adams’s office didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment; his spokeswoman declined to discuss the case with the AP. An attorney representing Adams said that the surgeon general didn’t realize the park was closed.
“During his visit to Oahu, the surgeon general was cited for accidentally violating the mayor’s emergency order, due to his misunderstanding of the law,” Lex Smith, an attorney in Honolulu, said in a statement to the AP. “He has not asked for, nor has he received, any special treatment in connection with this citation, and will respond to it appropriately.”
The case comes to light as President Donald Trump and his administration are assailed with charges that they haven’t taken coronavirus restrictions seriously, a long-standing criticism given new currency by an outbreak that has now led to at least 18 coronavirus infections in the White House, including Trump and the first lady.
But Adams may be among the least likely Trump administration officials to face a criminal case for violating pandemic restrictions. A self-described “nice person,” Adams is so rule-obsessed that he refused to cross the street on a mostly abandoned Mall until a red light changed when The Post’s Manuel Roig-Franzia profiled him in July.
The 46-year-old anesthesiologist has faced strong criticism for his leadership since the beginning of the pandemic, especially for a poem he tweeted in February suggesting that the flu was a more pressing risk than the coronavirus, which has now killed more than 210,000 Americans. His national presence has mostly disappeared since an April appearance where he was accused of using racially insensitive language in urging minority groups to take the virus more seriously.
But Adams has also become a strong voice in urging Americans to wear masks. He’s recently traveled to coronavirus hot spots nationwide, urging the public to follow health and safety guidelines.
That’s why he was in Hawaii in August. The state, which has now recorded nearly 13,000 cases and 160 deaths as of early Wednesday, was seeing a surge in new cases at the time. To stem the tide, Honolulu Democratic Mayor Kirk Caldwell issued emergency orders that, among other measures, closed all public parks.
Adams and his cohorts were violating that order, police said, when they were spotted in Kualoa on Aug. 23. The officer watched them strolling around the park and taking photos, and noted that Adams pulled a mask back on before returning to his vehicle. The surgeon general told the officer at the time that he didn’t know the parks were closed, according to his citation.
An aide to Adams, Dennis Anderson-Villaluz, was also cited in the park, the AP reported.
Three days after his citation, Adams stood next to the mayor whose emergency order he’d allegedly violated to urge Hawaiians to follow the rules.
“We’re seeing cases continue to go up, we’re seeing positivity continue to go up,” Adams said at an Aug. 26 news conference, noting his support for the mayor’s stay-at-home order at the time. “That’s why we’re calling on all of you to cooperate.”