Oakland sheriff: Won't arrest restaurant closure violators

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Ferndale — Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said Monday that his office will respond to reports of restaurants and bars that don't comply with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's shutdown order but does not plan to arrest violators.

"We're not planning to go out and arrest people," he said during a news conference with other county officials to discuss actions to combat the spread of coronavirus. However, Bouchard said his office will verify reports of noncompliant businesses and report them to the county health department. "We're looking to inform people and protect them," he said.

Michael Bouchard Oakland County Sheriff talks about the coronavirus, social distancing and the early closing hours of restaurants and bars during a press conference at M-Brew bar on Monday, March 16, 2020.

Bouchard urged residents to "do the right thing in this situation," stop hoarding food and toiletries, and look out for their neighbors. "Work together is a much more positive path and we'll get through this," he said.

During the news conference at M-Brew restaurant, owner Dean Bach praised Whitmer for ordering bars and restaurants to close except for takeout and delivery orders as of 3 p.m. Monday.

"I speak for a lot of business owners and restaurants," he said. "Our priority is our staff's well-being and our customers' well-being. ... I believe this is the right thing for the governor to do, take the decision out of our hands."

Bach said the coronavirus crisis presents him and other restaurant owners with unexpected challenges, including paying utilities, mortgages, insurance and other fixed costs while having their businesses closed or sharply curtailed. "All these things, we still have to pay," he said.

David Coulter, Oakland County Executive, talks about the coronavirus, social distancing and the early closing hours of restaurants and bars during a press conference at M-Brew bar, Monday, March 16, 2020.

He urged support for businesses that offer carryout and delivery. "We have a lot to think about," he said. "We have a lot of new challenges."

Whitmer also has ordered closures for gyms and a wide range of public accommodations including libraries, casinos and museums.

Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter, in response to questions, said business owners should take steps to ensure compliance with Whitmer's Friday order banning gatherings of more than 250 people. Later Monday, the governor banned most public gatherings of more than 50 people, effective at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Like others, Coulter said he could not estimate how long the ordered bans will be in effect.

"It's really anyone's guess," Coulter said. "Two weeks, three weeks, possibly longer. Whatever it takes.

"We know that Oakland County now has 14 cases of coronavirus involving persons from age 5 to into their 90s," Coulter said. "We also know they were not all involved with domestic or international travel. So it has been spread from person to person."

While Bouchard and sate Attorney General Dana Nessel both said violators of the governor's order were committing a crime and could be charged with a misdemeanor, a more severe penalty could be the revocation of any state license a business operates under. The attorney said price-gouging won't be tolerated.

"We are going to be aggressive in enforcement against anyone committing price-gouging," she said. "It is a crime to price gouge."

Gouging would be selling any products -- including cleaning materials, masks and foodstuffs --  for 20% or more above the price charged for the products on March 9.

Nessel encouraged anyone with information about price gouging to contact her office or call 877-765-8388.

Nessel also warned of COVID-19 virus related-schemes, especially those directed at senior citizens.

"If you are contacted by anyone you did not reach out to on your own, do not provide them with any personal information, especially your Social Security number or credit cards," she said.

Nessel also warned of "spoofing," a situation when someone is contacted by a stranger under the guise that one of their loved ones has been hospitalized and personal information is needed to provide medical treatment.

"It is not legit, it is a scam," she said.

U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Royal Oak, said he was seeking federal assistance for Michigan residents facing loss of income and employment by business closures. Coulter said steps are being taken to broaden unemployment pay for those affected.

 "I will be meeting with members of the Big Four (elected officials with the city of Detroit, and counties of Wayne and Macomb) and CEOs of major health care organizations to see how we can do everything we can,” Coulter said.

David Woodward, chairman of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners, said he would be seeking $1 million in county funds to help implement all measures meant to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.

"We need to do everything we can to protect our employees, our residents and to defeat this virus," he said.