Criminal Justice

Judge pursues criminal charges against 3 US marshals after underling won’t disclose COVID-19 vaccination status

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A federal judge in South Dakota has said three supervisory U.S. marshals will face criminal charges after an underling refused to disclose her COVID-19 vaccination status and left the courthouse with three defendants scheduled for court hearings.

U.S. District Judge Charles Kornmann of the District of South Dakota announced criminal charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice and contempt of court against the three marshals after they appeared at a hearing Monday on civil contempt charges, report the Aberdeen News, the Associated Press, Forum News Service and the Washington Post.

Kornmann said he will appoint a prosecutor if the U.S. attorney declines to prosecute.

Kornmann had told federal officials in March that he expected people working in his courtroom to disclose whether they had been vaccinated.

In a May 19 order to show cause, Kornmann said the U.S. Marshals Service sent a deputy U.S. marshal to his court knowing that she wouldn’t answer the vaccination question in what may have been an “in your face” gesture. Kornmann said he has to know vaccination status because he is 83 years old and at higher risk, as is an employee with serious lung and heart problems.

“Who is running the courts, judges or bureaucrats who themselves are sitting in their offices in the District of Columbia, totally not exposed to COVID problems in their workplaces?” he wrote.

One of the supervisors charged, South Dakota U.S. Marshal Daniel Mosteller, informed Kornmann in April that U.S. marshals wouldn’t be disclosing their vaccination status to the court. Only half of the marshals in South Dakota had been vaccinated by last month, according to a court filing cited by Forum News Service.

The other marshals charged are John Kilgallon, chief of staff for the U.S. Marshals Service; and Stephen Houghtaling, chief deputy U.S. marshal for South Dakota.

The dispute began May 10 when a deputy U.S. marshal brought a defendant into the courtroom but refused to disclose whether she had been vaccinated. She was asked to leave the courtroom and a vaccinated marshal was found to take her place. Later, she left the courthouse on orders from her supervisors with other defendants awaiting hearings.

During the hearing Monday, Kornmann said U.S. marshals must obey district court orders, and their actions were “outrageous.”

Removing the defendants was tantamount to a kidnapping or holding the defendants hostage, the judge said, and nothing like this has ever happened in the United States.

Kornmann said the case could be resolved by an apology and the payment of a $5,000 fine by each U.S. marshal defendant, but they declined.

The defendants wore masks during the hearing, but Kornmann and his staff did not, according to Forum News Service.

Kornmann is a nominee of former President Bill Clinton.

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