Bar Owner Faces One Year in Jail For Defying COVID-19 Rules

Bar Owner Faces One Year in Jail For Defying COVID-19 Rules
Stacked chairs line a restaurant in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Dec. 9, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Jack Bradley

A bar owner and manager’s criminal citation for allegedly defying the state-mandated curfew calls into question the limits of voluntary compliance enforcement.

Although the Orange County Sheriff’s Department has said it won’t enforce state-level CCP (China Communist Party) virus-related orders, some cities are ticketing offenders.

Costa Mesa is among the cities issuing fines to non-compliant residents and businesses. It recently issued its first criminal citation to a business that defied state curfew hours, even as officers tried to receive voluntary compliance multiple times.

The City of Santa Ana takes a similar approach, a police spokesperson said.

“There’s a mechanism if people don’t comply that we can use the enforcement, but our goal is to make that a last resort,” Cpl. Anthony Bertagna told The Epoch Times.

A state-wide emergency curfew was issued on Nov. 19, mandating all non-essential businesses to close between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

However, the Orange County District Attorney’s (OCDA) office has declined to file charges in nearly two dozen cases against business owners accused of operating illegally during the pandemic. It has instead have supported an education and outreach philosophy.

In Irvine, businesses and individuals that fail to comply with CPP virus guidelines face a $1,000 fine. The fine amount recently increased from $500.

“One business has been cited for remaining open in violation of the public health order,” Irvine police Sgt. Karie Davies told The Epoch Times via email. “The citations are processed through the city’s administrative process (not criminal).”

The issue reached a tipping point Dec. 12, when a Costa Mesa bar owner and manager were criminally charged for operating a business without adhering to virus guidelines.

Law enforcement and city bylaw officers repeatedly attempted to educate Barrera on the law before laying the charges, said the OCDA. Rather than complying with requests, Westend Bar continued to host between 50 to 70 customers without enforcing social distancing or facial coverings for neither employees nor customers, the OCDA said.

The case frustrated Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer.

“Orange County is home to tens of thousands of businesses who have either ceased operations or have continued to operate while implementing mitigating measures to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Spitzer said in a Dec. 31 press release.

“It is unacceptable for a business to repeatedly flaunt the regulations and continue to operate without even attempting to institute any mitigating measures that are designed to save lives. This is not just any business. This is a business that was provided opportunity after opportunity to take corrective action and it has failed to do so. This blatant disregard of the local and state health orders, is a slap in the face to hardworking business owners who continue to try to do the right thing during these extremely trying times.”

Westend Bar owner, 47-year-old Roland Michael Barrera of Huntington Beach, was charged with a misdemeanor for failing to enforce employees and customers to wear face coverings, not enforcing social distancing, and staying open after the state-mandated curfew.

Barrera was charged with one misdemeanor count of violating and neglecting to obey a lawful order and regulation.

Bar manager Luisza Giulietta Mauro, of Huntington Beach, was charged with one misdemeanor count of resisting a police officer when she attempted to prevent his entrance.

“She grabbed him physically and prevented him from entering the building,” OCDA spokesperson Kimberly Edds told The Epoch Times.

Barrera and Mauro both face a maximum sentence of one year in jail if convicted.