The City of Winslow reversed course in the case of a Native American jewelry and art store owner it cited for violating Gov. Doug Ducey’s order closing non-essential businesses, informing him over the weekend that he can remain open for business because he started selling several essential items.
Winslow police officers cited Daniel Mazon on a misdemeanor charge April 11, alleging that he violated Ducey’s executive order by keeping his Southwest Indian Art Center open. Mazon insisted that his store qualified as an essential business under a previous executive order because he’d begun selling items such as hay, paper towels and prepackaged snacks.
The city disagreed that the new items allowed Mazon, 71, to circumvent Ducey’s order, which he enacted in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. But City Manager John Barkely informed Mazon that it had reversed its position on whether his store qualified as an essential business.
Barkley told Mazon in a letter dated April 17 that he had correctly deemed the store a non-essential business because it operated as a curio shop prior to the governor’s executive order. Enforcement actions were justified, he said, and Winslow police officers acted in good faith.
But after reaching out to Mazon to learn his intent and discussing the matter with his attorney, Barkley said the city now believes his store can remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic because he is selling essential items, though it must still comply with social distancing guidelines. Barkley said he understands that Mazon only has a limited number of essential items for sale currently, but that he will offer more groceries as sales increase.
“With this in mind, I am providing notice that the Authentic Indian Art store may re-open immediately. The City Police will continue to monitor the store for compliance with social distancing and proper sanitation measures until further notice,” Barkley wrote to Mazon.
Mazon declined to speak with the Mirror.
Joshua Mazon announced his father’s victory in a Facebook post.
“We are winning and so is FREEDOM! We want to thank everyone that has shared and contacted the city of Winslow and helped us get our story out around the country,” Joshua Mazon wrote.
Joshua Mazon wrote that his father will keep the store closed until he is informed in writing that the charge has been dropped.
He also suggested in his Facebook post that Daniel Mazon is planning legal action against the city and possibly Ducey, given that city officials were enforcing his executive order. He urged people to contact the governor’s office “and ask them if they are responsible for citizens’ constitutional rights being violated in Winslow and if they want to be named in the lawsuit.”
If Mazon won’t reopen his store until he receives formal notification that the charge has been dropped, he may be waiting for a while.
Winslow Police Chief Dan Brown urged the Navajo County Attorney’s Office to consider dropping the charge against Mazon. But Barkely said he does not believe the city has the authority to rescind the citation it issued to Mazon, and that the case is now in the county attorney’s hands.
Navajo County Attorney Brad Carlyon told the Mirror on April 17 that his office doesn’t generally see misdemeanor cases until after the defendant has been arraigned, which usually takes two to four weeks after a charge is filed.
But Joshua Mazon told the Mirror that Winslow’s attorney informed his father’s attorney that the charge would be thrown out on Monday.
In an April 14 press release, the Winslow Police Department said Chief Dan Brown asked the Navajo County Attorney’s Office to “request possible dismissal” of the case. Carylon told the Mirror on Monday that he spoke with Brown and that the police chief told him he isn’t asking for dismissal. Carlyon is unaware of any such request to his office from the department.
“He is not asking me to dismiss it,” Carlyon said.
According to the Winslow Police Department, officers warned Mazon on April 9 that he was in violation of Ducey’s closure order after Mayor Tom McCauley received several complaints. Officers returned two days later and cited Mazon after he again ignored a warning that he had to close because of COVID-19, the police department said in a press statement. Officers handcuffed Mazon and put him in the back of a police car, but released him at the scene rather than arresting him and booking him into jail.
Mazon said that COVID-19 was a “hoax” and told the officers that he was in compliance with the governor’s order because he’d started selling paper towels, dog food, candy bars and hay, the police department said. Members of Mazon’s family also told the Mirror that he had updated his business license so he would qualify as an essential business, though it’s unclear exactly what changes he made to his license. The Arizona Department of Revenue said it can’t release such information due to taxpayer confidentiality laws.
Attorney General Mark Brnovich has opined that local police can enforce Ducey’s COVID-19 executive order, which requires most non-essential businesses to close and mandates that people follow social distancing guidelines when out in public. The order is in effect through April 30, though the governor has said he’ll extend it if need be.
Barkley told the Mirror that the city has reached out to the governor’s office for guidance. He said the governor’s order is clear as to what qualifies as an essential business, but that it’s been more difficult to determine whether a non-essential business can become essential by offering new products or services.
“In this case, after reviewing the facts of the matter and learning of Mr. Mazon’s intent, the City deemed the store to be in compliance with the Governor’s Orders as essential,” he said.
A spokesman for Ducey did not respond to requests for comment from the Mirror.
The dustup between Mazon and the city came to light as conservative activists started ramping up pressure on Ducey to “reopen” Arizona and rescind his executive order. Protesters filled about 100 vehicles and gathered at the Capitol on Sunday to protest the closures in an event dubbed Operation Gridlock Arizona, which was modeled on a similar protest in Lansing, Michigan last week.
Hundreds of protesters also gathered at the Capitol on Monday, marching on foot from Wesley Bolin Plaza to the executive tower, where the governor’s office is. The protesters largely argued that the response to contain COVID-19 is creating economic damage that outweighs the number of lives being saved by limiting the spread of the illness.
Mazon’s case became a cause célèbre among conservative activists and lawmakers who championed his cause over what they call government overreach.
“The situation in Winslow begs the question of why restaurants are now able to act as grocery stores, and why a grocery store can sell jewelry, but a jewelry store supposedly can’t sell toilet paper and hay,” Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, told the conservative website Arizona Daily Independent.
Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, voiced her support on Facebook, commenting on Joshua Mazon’s post, “Please tell us where the store is so we can ride up there and patronize it,” while Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, called it a “troubling case.”
“We need to do everything we can to support our local businesses in Arizona, not punish them,” Toma wrote on Twitter.