HOLLY RIDGE, N.C. (WNCT) – An Onslow County gym is closed for now after police cited the business for violating Governor Cooper’s executive orders. But the gym owner says those orders violate his rights.
As of Tuesday, Governor Roy Cooper’s executive orders require gyms like Snap Fitness in Holly Ridge to stay closed. But on May 1, owner Nick Koumalatsos reopened his fitness center, believing the governor’s order is unconstitutional.
“I made the decision to follow the CDC guidelines to mitigate as much risk as possible,” said Koumalatsos.
The owner says Holly Ridge police officers entered the gym on May 7, citing him for operating the business in violations of the emergency order, a class two misdemeanor. Koumalatsos says Police Chief Keith Whaley later voided the citation.
Pictures from the gym’s Facebook page show Police Captain Ewan Richards inside the facility on May 18. Town Manager Heather Reynolds says Richards saw people working out at the gym, violating the governor’s executive orders.
Mayor Jeff Wenzel say the captain used a key card to access the gym.
”We were given a key card by Snap Fitness to go do checks if we need to, welfare checks. If something were to happen during the middle of the night and we needed to respond to an emergency,” said Wenzel.
Reynolds tells 9OYS Richards cited the gym with a class two misdemeanor on May 18. If found guilty, the owner could face fines and-or jail time.
Town leaders say they’ve received complaints about the gym being open, and officers have visited the business before.
“Holly Ridge Police Department has had multiple conversations with Snap Fitness letting them know they were not able to operate under the governors’ executive orders,” said Wenzel.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Chief Whaley is on paid leave. Officials say it’s a personnel matter. They won’t say if it has any connection to the gym.
Koumalatsos believes the town is in the wrong, and he can run his gym safely.
“My members’ rights were being violated and I made my own call for what I felt was right for me and our community and the members of this facility,” said Koumalatsos.
The town of Holly Ridge is not enforcing anymore laws other than Governor Coopers’ orders.
“We’re simply following the governor’s executive order,” said Wenzel.
The town manager says there is an investigation in place for Chief Whaley regarding an ongoing personnel matter.
Captain Reynolds is carrying out the chiefs’ duties during the investigation.
If the state moves to reopening phase two this weekend, gyms like Snap Fitness would be able to reopen if they follow social distancing and cleaning protocols.
The Town of Holly Ridge sent a press release saying the police department was enforcing Governor Cooper’s Executive order after receiving advice from the Onslow County District Attorney, Ernie Lee.
The Executive Order states that gyms are not to be open during Phase 1.
Town officials said the officers are employed by the Town of Holly Ridge, and routinely reach out to the DA for guidance and that the accusation is not true.
“Snap Fitness had previously given the Holly Ridge Police a key card,” said Town officials. “Since the police department had been given a key by the gym and was using it for police purposes, the DA states this is not trespassing. It should be noted that neither the owner of the gym or any patron received a citation.”
The Town of Holly Ridge has not imposed any additional restrictions to the Governor’s order.
The Town Council of Holly Ridge adopted a resolution on Wednesday asking the Governor to allow businesses to decide if they want to reopen with the Town’s encouragement to follow CDC regulations and to encourage citizens to use their discretion on frequenting local businesses.