(The Center Square) – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has called for the immediate release of Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther, who was fined $7,000 and sentenced seven days in jail for opening her business in defiance of the state’s stay-at-home order.
Luther, owner of Salon A La Mode, was sentenced by Dallas Judge Eric Moye, who Paxton says has abused his authority.
Moye called Luther’s actions “selfish.”
She replied, “… feeding my kids is not selfish. So, sir, if you think the law’s more important than kids getting fed, then please go ahead with your decision. But I am not going to shut the salon.”
Paxton criticized Moye, saying jail time was unnecessary and "a shameful abuse of judicial discretion."
“I find it outrageous and out of touch that during this national pandemic, a judge, in a county that actually released hardened criminals for fear of contracting COVID-19, would jail a mother for operating her hair salon in an attempt to put food on her family’s table,” Paxton said. “The trial judge did not need to lock up Shelley Luther. His order is a shameful abuse of judicial discretion, which seems like another political stunt in Dallas. He should release Ms. Luther immediately.”
Following major protests over the weekend, Gov. Greg Abbott announced hair salons and barbershops could reopen May 8.
While jailing Luther, Dallas County Jail has released 1,000 inmates “to help reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 inside the facility,” Fox4 News reports.
"All of the persons who are being identified as being releasable are persons who are not violent offenders, have no history of violence,” said Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown.
Paxton said Luther, who needs the work to feed her children, should be released.
“A community that released all those people, some of whom committed serious crimes, can certainly stand to release one more—a mother whose only crime was operating a small business in an effort to feed her children,” Paxton said in his letter.
Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, said he spoke to Luther, the “’Patriot HairStylist’ demanding the right to put food on her table and hire workers near Dallas. The snitch, allegedly, is a nearby dog groomer! Yes, dog grooming is essential, but people grooming is not ... In addition to Texas Department of Licensing & Regulation is allegedly telling her stylists they will lose their licenses if they... WORK. Where is this? This is not Texas. This is not America.”
Roy also posted information about a GoFundMe account to help Luther with her legal bills.
Meanwhile in West Odessa, Ector County Sheriff’s SWAT team raided a peaceful protest at Big Daddy Zane’s bar, which opened Monday in defiance of the state’s stay-at-home order.
One protester, Phillip Archibald with Open Texas, told KHOU11 News, “We’re here to inspire the American people to stand up. Every single one of my buddies just got arrested for doing nothing wrong, all of our rifles were slinged.”
Open Texas has rallied across the state to support small business owners of gyms, salons, bars, or barber shops, who have lost work because of Abbott’s stay-at-home order, which has caused at least two million Texans to file for unemployment within one month.
The group held rallies in Frisco, at Salon A La Mode in Dallas, Ice House in Oyster Creek, Anytime Fitness and Big Daddy Zane's Bar in West Texas.
They were met with a military tank.
One American veteran commented on Twitter, “When I was in Iraq, we were lucky to have 1 MRAP with us while on patrol. Most of us in regular Humvee's. Why on God's green earth does a sheriff department have an MRAP??? Did I miss the part where the sheriff dept. was plagued by IED's on American streets?”
Ector County Sheriff’s Office charged Gabrielle Ellison, the bar owner, with Violations of Emergency Management Plan. She was released on bond.
Of the protesters, Ellison said, “They were practicing their second amendment right to protect my first amendment right. They have no business being in this jail, they had no right arresting me.”
In response, Sheriff Griffis told NewsWest 9, “Why draw attention to yourselves? I mean she could have opened up and we might not have known about it until the next day but when you cause this kind of commotion we’re going to take action.”
According to Ellison, the group was not on a licensed premise -- despite the charges six protesters are facing, NewsWest9 reports.
“It was intimidation, it was excess power, and you taxpayers should be mad about this,” Ellison said.
In response, Griffis defended coming in with a military tank, saying, “We do it all the time, that was loaned to us by the federal government and we use it each time.”
“It is clear that law enforcement in Odessa is unfamiliar with the details of Governor Abbott’s GA-18,” Houston attorney Jared R. Woodfill, CEO of Woodfill Law Group, told The Center Square. Woodfill is suing Gov. Greg Abbott over the constitutionality of his executive orders.
“The Order does not prohibit businesses from opening,” Woodfill notes. “It only applies to individuals who go to those businesses that Odessa law enforcement believes are closed by GA-18. It is amazing that law enforcement would use the heavy hand of government to trample on the constitutional freedoms enjoyed by the people of Odessa.”
Some of the protesters have said they are working on taking legal action against the county.
“This calls into question whether the goal here is forced submission or public safety,” Robert Henneke, general counsel and director of the Center for the American Future at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, told The Center Square.
“Whether it is in the use by Ector County of a tank to arrest citizens peaceably protesting, or the City of Dallas forcing Shelley Luther to jail because she wouldn’t apologize to the government, both instances show heavy-handedness by the government against its own citizens. One of the lessons of COVID-19 must involve accountability for those elected officials who have abused their authority during this time of emergency.”
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, as of May 6, 948 people in Texas have reportedly died from the coronavirus — three out of every one million people, or .00003 percent of Texas’ 28 million population.