The Snap Fitness gym in the North Carolina town of Holly Ridge has temporarily closed after an allegedly unconstitutional “raid” of the premises by police.
The coronavirus lockdown executive order put in place by North Carolina’s governor, Roy Cooper, closed all non-essential businesses, including gyms. One gym in Holly Ridge was faced with a police “raid” on the premises for allegedly failing to comply.
The owner of the Snap Fitness gym, Nick Koumalatsos, a YouTuber and former combat veteran, uploaded a video detailing the alleged harassment that he and his customers had faced by the Holly Ridge Police Department.
Originally on May 7th, the gym was first raided by the Police Department. “They came in hot, they blocked off the parking lot, they came in really fast,” Koumalatsos recounted. “They came in hands on guns, immediately started yelling at people, they were within 1 foot of some of the people yelling at them, saying that if they didn’t get out of this facility they would be ticketed,” he continued.
Police Chief Keith Whaley later apologized to Koumalatsos, and let him know that nobody would be ticketed, and the business would be on a “three strike” system. Despite following advice from the police and CDC after they re-opened, on May 18th, Captain Richards, the officer who conducted the first raid on May 7th, re-entered the gym. Richards had been made acting Chief of Police after Whaley was suspended, something Koumalatsos alleges was because of his “respect for the constitution.”
Richards gained access with an “old keycard which was to be returned upon termination of membership prior to 2018,” and “threatened to ticket all members that were inside,” Koumalatsos alleged in a Facebook post, in which he subsequently announced the reclosure of the North Carolina gym. “If you want to harass me, if you want to come at me, I’ve been in a fight. I know how to protect myself, I know how to take a beating… What I can’t allow is for a law enforcement officer to harass citizens of my town,” Koumalatsos said.
In a video posted to Facebook, Holly Ridge Mayor Jeff Wenzel said the Police Department was “enforcing Governor Cooper’s executive order, after receiving advice from the Onslow County District Attorney, Ernie Lee,” and that the accusation that Captain Richards had used a personal key card was “not true”:
Snap Fitness had previously given the Holly Ridge police a key card. Since the Police Department had been given a key by the gym, and was using it for police purposes, the DA states that this is not trespassing. It should be noted that neither the owner of the gym or any patron received a citation. The town council has and will continue to support the Holly Ridge Police Department in their discretion in following the advice of the District Attorney.
However, Koumalatsos strongly denied this. “We have never given them a key card under my ownership,” he wrote in an update. “If they did have a membership in 2010 then they should have turned the key card into the prior owner,” he continued.
While the Holly Ridge PD may simply argue that they are just enforcing the governor’s orders, other police departments in North Carolina have refused to comply. Timothy Wright, the Sheriff of Polk County, signed an open letter noting that his office “has expressed concerns about the enforceability of Governor Cooper’s executive orders from the day they were first issued”:
It has been our office policy since the very beginning to not take any enforcement action beyond providing a copy of the orders to complainants and those we’ve received citizen complaints on. Business owners and religious leaders are adults and private citizens and they can make their own informed decisions as to how to safely operate their businesses and organisations. The Office of the Sheriff is not, nor should it have ever been, in the business of regulating private industry and practicies. Our mandate and ethical responsibility is to uphold the constitution of the United States and enforce the laws of the land when a clearly established law has been obviously violated.