Winslow city officials are trying to determine whether a small business owner they accused of violating Gov. Doug Ducey’s order closing nonessential businesses can keep his Native American jewelry store open now that he also sells candy bars, dog food and hay.
On April 11, Winslow police officers cited Daniel Mazon for violating Ducey’s order closing nonessential businesses in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Attorney General Mark Brnovich issued a legal opinion last month saying that local police agencies have the power to issue citations for violations of the governor’s emergency order.
Winslow City Manager John Barkley told Arizona Mirror that Mazon had started selling items like hay, paper towels and pre-packaged snacks at his Southwest Indian Art Center in an attempt to skirt Ducey’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected” order. The order deems grocery stores as essential businesses, but contains no provision allowing jewelry or art stores to stay open.
“We are working with the owner to approach a resolution based on a legal opinion as to whether a store owner can change the nature of the business while the Governor’s Order is in effect,” Barkley said in an email to the Mirror.
Police officers cited Mazon with a misdemeanor charge of operating a business in violation of an emergency decree. But following a review of the incident, the police chief asked the Navajo County attorney to consider dismissing the charge and has questioned whether the city was violating Mazon’s constitutional rights.
“Protecting our citizens during a time of crisis does not absolve law enforcement of protecting the rights of a person afforded to them by the United States Constitution. I fully understand that this is a difficult time in our nation’s history. However, as law enforcement officers, we must ensure we uphold our Constitutional Oath of Office while enforcing any law,” police Chief Dan Brown said in a press release.
Barkley said the city has asked the governor’s office and Winslow’s city attorney for opinions on whether the steps Mazon took are sufficient to allow him to keep his store open.
The Navajo County Attorney’s Office did provide any information on the status of Mazon’s case or say whether it’s considering dropping the charge.
The Winslow Police Department told the Mirror that the action against Mazon came from city hall, and the department simply happened to be the entity that enforced it.
According to a press release from the Winslow Police Department, Mayor Tom McCauley received several complaints about Southwest Indian Art Center remaining open in defiance of the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe, Stay Connected” executive order closing businesses deemed nonessential to help stem the spread the of COVID-19. McCauley visited the store on April 9 and warned a person working there that it was violating the order.
Several hours later, police went to the store and spoke with owner Daniel Mazon, who refused to provide his name, and gave him a second warning, the police department said. The governor’s executive order requires that violators be given an opportunity to remedy the situation before being cited.
The store remained open, and two days later officers went back to speak with Mazon. Winslow police said Mazon told them he was in compliance with the governor’s order, refused to give officers his name or show them his identification, and said his constitutional rights were being violated and that the coronavirus was a “hoax.” Mazon told the officers that he’d modified his business so he could stay open. The officers saw “just a few candy bars, paper towels, and two bags of dog food along with a store filled with Native American jewelry,” the police department said in its press release.
“The owner insisted he was now considered a ‘department store’ as he stood behind the jewelry counter,” the police press release said.
The officers cited Mazon for operating a business in violation of an emergency decree. He was detained, handcuffed and placed into a police vehicle, but was released at the scene. He was not arrested or booked into jail, but was issued a citation to appear in Winslow Justice Court.
Mazon’s son, Joshua Mazon, described the incident in a Facebook post on Monday. He said his father drove to Phoenix to update his business license so he would be a department store, which the mayor had said could remain open, and started selling hay. He noted that a Walmart a mile from his father’s store sells similar items and is allowed to stay open.
“For all you people living in fear of the virus, he hasn’t even got 10 customers a day that come into his store since the virus. So don’t worry about him breaking any social distancing ‘rules,’” Joshua Mazon wrote.
He described the mayor’s attempt to shut down certain businesses as “communism dictatorship.”
“The constitution and rights of law abiding citizens are being taken right before our eyes,” he wrote.
Daniel Mazon declined to speak with the Arizona Mirror.
The police department said Winslow has the fifth-highest per capita rate of coronavirus infections in Arizona, and that the city “has been significantly, negatively impacted by the spread of COVID-19. Mazon is the only business owner in Winslow to be cited for violating Ducey’s order.
In an earlier press release on Monday, Barkley defended the city’s actions, saying it has an obligation to enforce Ducey’s order. He said officers provided a warning to Mazon, as required by law, but that warning was ignored and “Winslow police were met with belligerence.”
“Despite this unfortunate situation, no business owner has been arrested and the City is by no means operating as a police state. We are simply required by law to enforce the provisions of the governor’s order and we appreciate and commend our business community for all of the sacrifices you are making every day during this COVID-19 pandemic,” Barkley said.
Navajo County Attorney Brad Carlyon said he hasn’t seen Brown’s request and that his office typically doesn’t see misdemeanor cases until after the arraignment, which is typically two to four weeks after charges are filed. Carlyon said all he knows about Mazon is what he read in the Winslow Police Department’s press release.
Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for Ducey, said the governor’s office is not aware of anyone from the City of Winslow asking the administration for an opinion on the extent of the closure order. He also said the Ducey administration hasn’t reviewed all the facts of the case, but noted that the police chief recommended that the case be dismissed.