PINELLAS PARK, FL – Charges have been dropped against the owner of a table top gaming shop in Pinellas Park, Florida after he was arrested for non-compliance of the state’s stay-at-home order, mandating that all non-essential businesses remain closed in order to help stem the tide of the coronavirus pandemic.
Kitchen Table Games owner Galen Trent Wood has operated his business since 2014, giving players of card-based role playing games such as Magic the Gathering, Pokemon, Yugioh, and Dungeons and Dragons a place to congregate and compete against one another. However, he continued to conduct business – albeit only for curbside pick-up and online orders, while keeping his physical store closed – and was arrested on April 16 by the Pinellas County Sheriff Deputies as a result.
Wood spent six hours in jail before being released on $500 bail, officials say. After he was released, he spoke with the media and insisted that he was wrongfully arrested and claimed that a FAQ provided by the office of Governor DeSantis allowed – and even encouraged – small business owners to offer curbside pickup and delivery options for their customers.
“Yesterday was just for show as far as I can tell,” Wood said. “It’s just a show of hubris by the cops and the sheriff.”
However, the Sheriff’s office noted all non-essential and retail businesses were required to close due to a local Pinellas County order. Wood was charged with violating two statewide emergency orders issued by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis; the first charge for continuing to operate his store, and the second for not staying home unless absolutely necessary. The orders were issued to help contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, which to date in the United States has infected 1.23 million people and killed nearly 72,000 since late January of this year.
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s office noted that Wood had been repeatedly observed by authorities to be open and operating his business, and had been issued warnings to comply with the emergency orders on April 3, twice on April 7, and again on April 10 as well as on April 16, 2020. According to the Sheriff’s Office, Wood became argumentative and refused to close on each of these occasions; finally, on April 16, he became the first business owner in Florida to be arrested for violating said emergency orders.
However, in a turn of events, the office of State Attorney Bernie McCabe decided to drop all changes against Wood last Thursday, stating that the facts and circumstances did not warrant prosecution at that time. McCabe’s office filed “No Information” on the case against Wood, which means that the accused person is not charged and the matter is dropped.
Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R) of Oldham & Delcamp Trial Attorneys, hired by Wood to represent him in the case, issued a statement via Twitter regarding the dismissal, asserting that Governor DeSantis’ powers to issue stay-at-home orders during the pandemic were not valid, ending the tweet with the hashtags #liberty and #COVID19.
“The State Attorney’s Office 6th Circuit just DROPPED their case against my client Galen Wood — the first Floridian to be arrested for opening a ‘non-essential’ business. It’s clear there is NO valid legal authority for either the state or local emergency orders,” Sabatini tweeted, who is a vocal opponent of the state’s stay-at-home orders.
Likewise, Kitchen Table Games issued a statement via their Facebook page after the charges against Wood were dropped.
“This is a victory for anyone who believes in the American system of government and the natural inalienable rights to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Did you know the Florida Constitution expands upon that in Article one, saying that ‘All natural persons, female and male alike, are equal before the law and have inalienable rights, among which are the right to enjoy and defend life and liberty, to pursue happiness, to be rewarded for industry, and to acquire, possess and protect property.’ You have the right to work, and that right is inalienable.”
How this development may affect others not in compliance with lock-down orders is not known; because the case never went to trial, a precedent for other businesses was not set. In addition, Florida began the first phase of its re-opening process on May 4, allowing restaurants and retail stores – including Wood’s – to re-open and allow customers inside, but only at 25 percent capacity.
“We will get Florida back on its feet by using an approach that is safe, smart, and step by step,” Governor DeSantis said of the reopening efforts.
Movie theaters, bars, salons, and gyms statewide will remain closed for the time being. In the three counties hit hardest by the pandemic – Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach – reopening plans exclude them.