Sammy Carrejo who helped organize a protest on Saturday calling on Texas businesses to reopen has been given a citation by the El Paso Police Department for violating the city’s stay home order, but some city representatives are upset that further enforcement of emergency orders were not upheld.
El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said Carrejo and organizers were contacted by police when they first announced their event last week. They were told about the city’s emergency orders and what could happen if the orders were violated, Allen added.
Around 100 people gathered near the El Paso County Courthouse on Saturday, demanding the reopening of businesses closed through the coronavirus stay-at-home order. While some wore face masks, other protesters bucked social distancing requirements.
In mid-March, the City Council adopted an emergency ordinance and have updated throughout April to ensure that residents practice social distancing between each other in public and wear coverings over their face to stem the spread of COVID-19.
City officials say the organizers of the event did not have the appropriate permit for a rally but had been receptive to comments from the police.
Allen said the City Manager Tommy Gonzalez told him to enforce the city’s emergency orders, enacted to protect the public from spreading the novel coronavirus. Allen said he took responsibility for the police’s actions Saturday.
But citations and arrests were not made to “offset the potential consequences of inciting people who were already emotionally inflamed and now dealing with heavy handed tactics from law enforcement, which would exacerbate the situation,” Allen said. “So, I took basic common sense I believe in this case, and I know I am right on this of not enforcing at that time and letting enforcement be our guideline for the future in the citation process.”
But District 1, 2 and 3 city representatives Alexsandra Annello, Cassandra Hernandez and Peter Svarzbein called on the city and police to enforce the emergency order.
“My concern is when we have a policy, an emergency order in place in this community that isn’t being followed, where is the accountability.” said Svarzbein.
Hernandez said the city needs to ensure El Pasoans take the directive seriously and not put others at risk.
“I feel like we’re not being strong enough and people have risked their entire livelihoods and social lives to adhere to the orders,” Hernandez said. “We should not be encouraging a clear neglect of this ordinance. We need strong leadership more than ever from our city manager to ensure all staff is enforcing this ordinance.”
District 6 and 7 city representatives Henry Rivera and Claudia Rodriguez said they felt the police handled Saturday’s events well.
“You can’t take it against the few citizens that decided to exercise their constitutional rights to publicly protest,” Rodriguez said. “We need be careful with the way we are treating our citizens because we are going to push them to the brink and it’s going to make things a lot worse.”
Rivera said the police handled Saturday’s events well and acknowledged residents have asked for more enforcement.
“They don’t seem to understand what you’re saying is that you use your discretionary judgement to the best because like you said it could’ve escalated to something worse where definitely you could be talking about another issue.”
Gonzalez said there has been enforcement of the emergency orders in the community. Businesses and residents have been informed of the city’s emergency orders and warnings and citations have been given.
A presentation during Monday’s meeting showed the city had conducted 12,369 inspections since it began its emergency ordinance in mid-March. There have been 772 warnings and 55 citations have been handed out.
Aaron Montes may be reached at 915-546-6137; email@example.com; @aaronmontes91 on Twitter.
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