Restaurant owner jailed after defying COVID-19 orders

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A Michigan restaurant owner was arrested before dawn Friday and hauled to jail, a dramatic turn in a monthslong dispute over her persistent refusal to comply with orders and restrictions tied to the coronavirus.

Marlena Pavlos-Hackney will remain in jail until she pays $7,500 and authorities confirm that Marlena’s Bistro and Pizzeria in Holland, Michigan, is closed, a judge said.

“She has put the community at risk. We are in the middle of a pandemic,” Ingham County Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said.

State investigators said Pavlos-Hackney, 55, was ignoring caps on restaurant capacity and wasn’t enforcing mask rules. Her food license was suspended Jan. 20, but the business remained open. A different judge declared Pavlos-Hackney in contempt of court on March 4 and ordered an arrest if the business remained open.

“You have selfishly not followed the orders. … This is the wrong way to get publicity,” Aquilina said. “It’s the wrong way to be a good citizen.”


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Pavlos-Hackney’s attorney, Robert Baker, said she would immediately pay $7,500 and close the restaurant. Pavlos-Hackney seemed to shrug off the possibility of an arrest just a day earlier as she poured coffee for customers.

“We don’t want this country to be a communist regime that’s going to dictate what we can do and what we cannot do,” the native of Poland told WOOD-TV on Thursday.

To reduce the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at times has put strict limits on restaurants and bars. In-person dining, with limited capacities, was reinstated Feb. 1 after a 10-week halt. There were other restrictions earlier in the pandemic.

“Dangerous act”

State regulators have suspended licenses at businesses that violate the rules. Attorney General Dana Nessel defended the arrest on Twitter, saying Pavlos-Hackney was putting the public at risk.

“This owner has continued to willfully violate the state’s food laws, public health orders and the order of the court — a dangerous act that may have exposed dozens of diners and employees to the virus following the discovery that one of Marlena’s customers tested positive for the virus within two days of eating there,” Nessel, a Democrat, said in a statement.

The court hearing got off to a rocky start: A man who acknowledged he’s not a licensed lawyer was arrested for contempt after Aquilina said it was improper for him to file a document on Pavlos-Hackney’s behalf. The judge then asked her if she would pledge to tell the truth. Pavlos-Hackney didn’t reply.

“I know you want to control this room but this isn’t Burger King,” Aquilina said. “When the sign changes to Burger King you can have it your way. Right now this is my courtroom, and you will answer my questions.”

Pavlos-Hackney, who this week appeared on conservative media figure Glenn Beck’s show to discuss her case, is also being supported via a GoFundMe campaign. Donors have contributed $72,000.

Nearly 17,000 people in Michigan have died of COVID-19, according to state health statistics

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