Los Angeles Files Charges Against Four Shops for Violating 'Safer at Home' Order

On Friday, Los Angeles prosecutors filed criminal charges against four stores that stayed open despite Mayor Eric Garcetti's executive "Safer at Home" order calling for the shutdown of all nonessential businesses. The charges mark the first known instance of a city prosecuting businesses that disregard orders to shutter amid the coronavirus epidemic.

The prosecuted businesses are Brother Shoes, Business Discount Electronics, the DTLA Smoke Shop and Hot Box Smoke Shop. In addition to these four shops, the city attorney's office says it's considering prosecuting 30 other businesses accused of operating against city orders.

According to The LA Times, the city prosecuted the businesses only after the storefronts refused to voluntarily end operations despite warnings by the mayor's newly launched Business Ambassadors Program.

The program contacts and warns noncompliant businesses to cease operations under the penalty of possible legal charges. Noncompliant businesses face misdemeanor charges, other possible citations and utility shut-offs by the municipal Department of Water and Power.

"Nonessential businesses remaining open at this time jeopardize public health and safety," City Atty. Mike Feuer told the publication, "and my office is committed to vigorously enforcing the mayor's order."

Mayor Garcetti echoed Feuer's sentiments, stating, "We want to let people know that we are serious about this, that businesses that flagrantly violate this will be shut down short term and prosecuted in the medium term as well."

Los Angeles California
People walk past closed store-fronts at Venice Beach in Los Angeles on March 20, 2020, a day after Los Angeles County announced a near-lockdown, urging all residents to stay home except for essential needs. Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty

Thus far, 46 states have demanded the shutdown of nonessential businesses—only Arkansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota have not, according to ABC News. While the specifics vary from state to state, most allow the following "essential" businesses to remain open: pharmacies, food sources, banks, gas stations, laundromats, hardware stores and government offices.

Meanwhile, other shops, beauty salons, entertainment venues, gyms, bars, dine-in restaurants, and public recreation areas have mostly been deemed "nonessential" and forced to close indefinitely.

The situation has raised disagreements over what qualifies as an essential business. For example, states have allowed cannabis retailers and liquor stores to remain open, partly as a means of self-medication during the epidemic, but have closed gun stores.

On March 27, the National Rifle Association, the Second Amendment Foundation and the Firearms Policy Coalition and other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against California Governor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva for allegedly violating the Second Amendment because their orders effectively closed gun shops, thus restricting firearm sales.

"Firearm and ammunition retailers arguably provide the most essential business function possible by enabling Californians to lawfully defend themselves, their loved ones and their property," the California lawsuit argues.