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Florida business owner’s arrest for violating lockdown orders was ‘just a show of hubris’


Pinellas Park — In the hours after he was released from jail, the county’s first business owner to be arrested for violating state and local lockdown orders said he was wrongfully arrested and mistreated by deputies.

“Yesterday was just for show as far as I can tell,” Galen Trent Wood said Friday in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s just a show of hubris by the cops and the sheriff.”

But Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who showed up at Kitchen Table Games the night of the arrest, said Wood was blatantly defying the public health orders and disregarded several warnings from deputies.

“What I said was people had to beg their way into jail,” Gualtieri said. “And he begged.”

Wood’s arrest Thursday showed just how far one business owner was willing to go to stay open as the community hunkers down at home to curb the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Gualtieri maintains that his deputies’ warnings left no room for confusion, but Wood insists a statewide order from Gov. Ron DeSantis directing Floridians to stay home except for essential business gave his tabletop game store the authority to stay open.

Wood, 36, is facing two counts of violation of an emergency order, according to his arrest reports. He was booked into jail Thursday night and released about six hours later after paying $500 bail.

One count stems from DeSantis’ order, making it illegal to leave home for a non-essential service, Gualtieri said. The second count refers to a Pinellas County emergency order, requiring the closure of any retail establishment not deemed essential by the state.

The business at 9600 66th St. N in Pinellas Park sells cards and games such as Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Dragon Ball Super Card Games. It had been open for pickup and delivery only, Wood said.

According to Gualtieri, his deputies began monitoring the business in early April based on tips from the community. The deputies saw people going up to the storefront and having contact with employees.

Wood said that only happened on one occasion and otherwise he tried to keep the pickups contact-free. Pickup orders had dwindled to a few per day, at most. The bulk of sales are made online and shipped to customers.

Even so, he defended his use of pickup orders, pointing to a Q&A put out by DeSantis’ office that encourages businesses to provide delivery and pickup to customers.

“Even if we weren’t essential, it’s kind of a moot point” because of that guidance, Wood said.

Gualtieri said the finer points of how Kitchen Table Games handled pickup doesn’t matter. A county order directed all non-essential retail establishments to close. Had Wood continued with delivery orders, the sheriff said, he would have been fine.

Deputies had checked on the business four times since April 3 before Thursday night’s visit and Wood’s arrest. Wood said Friday he plans to hire a lawyer and is considering legal action against the Sheriff’s Office. He wanted a lawyer’s advice on whether to reopen and how.

Gualtieri said he had hoped the new restrictions wouldn’t reach the point where he’d have to arrest a business owner, recognizing that everyone faces tough times. Wood, he said, left him no choice.

“We’re trying to work through this together, and I think it’s very important we go to these lengths and recognize how hard it is on somebody,” the sheriff said.

“But at the end of the day, we’ve all got to follow the law, and this guy decided he’s above the law.”

(c)2020 the Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.)

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