Gov. Abbott modifies COVID-19 order to take jail time off the table for violations

Texas

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In response to three Texans being arrested for operating nonessential businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Greg Abbott has modified his executive order to eliminate jail time as a punishment.

Gov. Abbott specifically pointed out Shelley Luther, who was sentenced to a week in jail after she opened her Dallas salon in violation of an executive order, along with arrested Laredo residents Ana Isabel Castro-Garcia and Brenda Stephanie Mata, saying they “should not be subject to confinement” for violating orders.

The Governor addressed the issue at his visit with President Trump at the White House on Thursday.

“These people who have spent their life building up a business, and being told to shut it down and lose every penny they have and then if they don’t follow every little fine point of all the rules, they are subject to arrest…that is wrong,” Gov. Abbott said, while sitting next to President Trump.

The Texas Supreme Court granted Luther’s release Thursday, saying in a brief they “granted an emergency motion to be released without bond while the habeas corpus petition is considered.”

Trump asked if Luther had been released at the meeting with the Governor, and when Abbott confirmed she was, the President said, “Good.” 

Gov. Abbott said the modification is retroactive to April 2, and supersedes local orders.

“As some county judges advocate for releasing hardened criminals from jail to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said, “it is absurd to have these business owners take their place.”

In Luther’s case, state officials came to her defense following her sentencing by Dallas County Judge Eric Moye. Moye sentenced Luther to a week in jail, plus fines for each day her salon was open, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick offered to cover her fines.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also came to Luther’s defense. “It doesn’t do the state any good, it doesn’t do her any good, it just shouldn’t be happening,” he said.

Paxton also sent a letter to Judge Moye saying, “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.”

Earlier this week, several were arrested in Odessa at a bar that had reopened against the Governor’s orders, including the owner.

Castro-Garcia and Mata were arrested in Laredo for providing nail and eyelash services during the stay-at-home order in April.

In response, the Texas Democratic Party said the Governor should be focusing on more important things, rather than dedicating so much time to one case.

“Instead of focusing on ramping up testing, establishing a long-term system for contact tracing, learning from the data with health experts, and listening to health professionals on the front lines,—all of which are required to keep people safe and restore consumer confidence—Greg Abbott dangles political red meat for his base while ignoring his own established guidelines and executive orders,” TDP executive director Manny Garcia said Thursday.

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