League City looking forward after three-week stay-at-home ordinance ends with no fines, arrests

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In the three weeks League City had an ordinance that allowed police to fine residents up to $2,000 for violating now-obsolete stay-at-home orders, no one was cited or arrested, according to police records.

Still, that does not mean officers were not busy. Police responded to nearly 100 calls for service related to residents and businesses violating stay-at-home orders over the three weeks. That is an average of over four calls a day, and many of them were to the same parks and businesses, records show.

On March 24, League City City Council passed an ordinance that allowed police to fine residents up to $2,000 if they violated the state’s and county’s stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus outbreak. On April 14, the council did not vote to extend the ordinance, ending officers’ authority to fine residents $2,000.

However, police could still fine violators up to $1,000 or put them in jail for up 180 days under the governor’s order, which ended May 1. Chief Gary Ratliff had instructed officers to first give verbal warnings to offenders.

“Only under a last-ditch effort would it ever result in somebody being [fined or] arrested,” Ratliff said.

Public Information Officer John Griffith said the department understood why residents and businesses might have violated stay-at-home orders. For many, there are money and emotions involved, so officers tried to be understanding when responding to calls, Griffith said.

“We’re working with people,” he said of the ordinance.

Residential violations

Of the 94 calls related to stay-at-home order violations to which police responded, 35 were to parks, 27 were to residences, and four were to schools, according to the records.

On April 9, police were called with a report that people were playing soccer at Walter Hall Park. Police found at least 100 people at the park doing different activities, but they were minding social distancing rules, so police did not act, according to a police report.

After hearing about the large gatherings at the park, Mayor Pat Hallisey on April 11 ordered all city parks to close indefinitely. The order did not include Walter Hall Park, which is a county park in League City limits. Parks reopened after the council did not vote to extend the ordinance April 14.

On April 12, Easter Sunday, police found the biggest gathering yet at the park. According to a report, police responded to a call at Walter Hall Park and found “hundreds of people,” but “most [were] at a safe distance.”

In all, reports of people gathering at Walter Hall Park account for 11 of the 35 total calls to parks police received related to violations of stay-at-home orders, according to the records.

Police also responded to a number of reports of gatherings of 10 or more people at residences. In some cases, police had to ask residents to disperse.

On March 27, police responded to a reported party of 20 people having a crawfish boil. Officers told the homeowners about the city ordinance, and the homeowner then shut the party down, according to the reports.

Other reports were exaggerated or unsubstantiated, according to reports.

In several calls, residents reported seeing 15 to 20 or more gathering together, but police found far fewer.

On March 29, at least two callers reported a church gathering on a lawn with residents hugging and shaking hands. When responding, police found 15 to 20 vehicles on a nearby street and groups of five to six people walking through the neighborhood, according to a report.

Business violations

Businesses accounted for 28 of the 94 calls police received. Some were visited by police up to four times, according to the records.

Roman Iron Gym, 1261 Butler Road, League City, was reported to police as being open on March 29 and 30 and twice on April 1.

During the final response April 1, police found the gym’s owner, George Roman, along with four residents at the gym. An officer told Roman this was the fourth call to the business and that they had to leave the gym, which they did, according to the reports.

A gas station along FM 646 was also reported several times for allowing residents to use gambling machines.

On April 9, police responded and told the clerk residents were not allowed to use them. The clerk had been warned the week before, and police said the next violation would result in a fine, according to a report.

On April 11, police responded to the gas station for a third time for reports of residents using the gambling machines. An officer spoke with the manager, who turned off the machines.

Overall, Griffith said the three weeks went pretty smoothly. City residents generally followed the order.

“People encountered have been understanding and compliant,” he said.

Looking ahead

Mayor Pat Hallisey, who wanted to extend the ordinance beyond April 14, said even though police indicated the ordinance would not result in fines or arrests, it did what it set out to do: show residents the city was serious about the stay-at-home order.

“What’s the purpose of a rule if you’re not gonna [enforce] it? To get people’s attention. I think we got their attention,” Hallisey said. “Citizens listened. Citizens did their social distancing, and we’re seeing the results.”

Despite wanting the ordinance to last longer than it did, Hallisey said he and many others in the city are ready to start getting back to normal.

As they do so, League City officials will be watching case counts closely. Hallisey trusts local restaurants will follow the governor’s order by not opening at more than 25% capacity, but the city will still be paying attention.

“Do we think we’re gonna be policing the restaurants?” Hallisey said. “I think we’re gonna keep an eye on them.”
By Jake Magee
Jake Magee has been a print journalist for several years, covering numerous beats including city government, education, business and more. Starting off at a daily newspaper in southern Wisconsin, Magee covered two small cities before being promoted to covering city government in the heart of newspaper's coverage area. He moved to Houston in mid-2018 to be the editor for and launch the Bay Area edition of Community Impact Newspaper.



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