FOND DU LAC COUNTY -- Governor Tony Evers on Thursday, April 16 directed the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to extend the "Safer at Home" order through May 26, and enforcing that order, originally set to end on April 24 after taking effect on March 25, has led to criminal charges in Fond du Lac County.
The district attorney noted this remains a last resort for law enforcement.
Criminal complaints were filed in Fond du Lac County against a dozen people accused of violating the order.
"Everybody is presumed innocent until proven guilty," said District Attorney Eric Toney.
A handful of the complaints related to a nonessential business. The owner of The Hip Hop Shop, Rodney Emerson, stands accused of staying open for business after the order was put in place, and hosting a party of more than 20 people. FOX6 News could not reach him for comment Thursday.
The other complaints related to a restaurant not following social distancing guidelines, with a customer eating inside. FOX6 News received a statement from Sunset on the Water Thursday -- which is posted in full at the bottom of this story.
Under the order, restaurants are only allowed to be open for takeout and delivery.
"I know talking with our Fond du Lac County sheriff, they've received 100 complaints from citizens on people violating the Safer at Home order," said Toney.
The owner of a vacation property, Bradley Lenz, is accused of violating the order by continuing to rent out his property on more than one occasion. He told FOX6 News he did not want to comment Thursday, but said he hired an attorney.
"The goal has been not to have any referrals to the DA's office," said Toney. "That's really been a last resort. Sometimes, folks are not aware they were in violation, and there's other things law enforcement will do seeking voluntary compliance."
Toney did not want to discuss specific cases, but admitted these are uncharted waters for everyone.
"We're not really sure how these cases will resolve themselves," said Toney. "We're still waiting to see how this pandemic unfolds."
He did explain penalties for those convicted:
"This is the lowest level of any misdemeanor charge we have," said Toney. "The maximum penalty would be up to 30 days in jail and a fine up to $500."
Police in suburban Milwaukee departments like Greenfield said they're issuing citations only for repeat violators of the order. Toney said officials in Fond du Lac County and Fond du Lac have been working to issue citations instead of criminal charges. It's unknown of citations could resolve these cases already filed.
"We don't want to be a big brother community where everybody is getting citations and criminal charges," said Toney. "We want to use those as last resorts."
As of Thursday, those accused of violating the order in Fond du Lac County are due in court in May.
Statement from Sunset on the Water
"I represent Ms. Katris, owner of Sunset. We pulled the surveillance footage and we believe it shows all customers inside maintaining appropriate social distancing. It does not show anyone eating or drinking anything inside.
The bar was completely emptied of all alcohol a week prior and stored in the banquet room. This was the first night of take out opening since the closure. The bar was undergoing remodeling during that time.
No customers ate or drank anything inside the restaurant. That was neither allowed nor did it occur. The report to the contrary is in error.
The person accused of eating and drinking and socializing inside has given a sworn affidavit. She says she did not. She says the officer misunderstood her comments in an exchange that lasted but a few minutes.
She had ordered earlier in the evening and when she saw the owner decided that after she ate she wanted to discuss a banquet to be planned later in August at the restaurant. She took her food to her car and ate inside her vehicle in the parking lot by herself.
After she ate, she went back inside to talk to Ms. Katris. She waited in the side banquet room where she would be out of the way and more than 6 feet from customers coming in to order food. Without the owner’s knowledge she did sit at a table in the banquet room while she waited. The banquet room where she sat was where all of the bar items were being stored, including bottles and glasses from the bar that were emptied out just a week prior during the remodel.
Surveillance footage shows her in the room and she never touched the bottle sitting on the table which had been left there from days prior. The officer never asked her to submit to a breath test when she denied drinking.
Any claims that anyone was merely socializing or eating or drinking inside the restaurant are mistaken; that did not happen.
Surveillance footage shows only 6-8 employees ever in the kitchen and only 9 were on the clock that night. We have no idea how it got reported that 15 employees were working in the kitchen. The mistaken information was provided to the sheriff’s office to look into the error.
Surveillance footage shows no customer was ever in the dining room that entire day or night.
Surveillance footage shows all customers inside clearly attempting to abide by social distance requirements, and nobody ever appears bunched up in any fair description of the footage. There are no violations shown."