L.A. files criminal charges against four stores for refusing to close amid coronavirus

Shops along Winston Street in the wholesale district of Los Angeles
Shops along Winston Street in the wholesale district of Los Angeles have suspended business as a precaution against spreading the coronavirus.
(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles prosecutors on Friday filed criminal charges against two smoke shops, a shoe store and a discount electronics retailer, accusing them of refusing to shut down despite orders imposed to fight the coronavirus.

It marks the first time the city has filed charges for violations of the “Safer at Home” order, which requires businesses deemed nonessential to close their doors to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

City Atty. Mike Feuer on Friday said the four stores were deemed nonessential businesses under Mayor Eric Garcetti’s executive order.

“The mayor’s order is clear: Only essential businesses, such as healthcare providers, organizations serving vulnerable populations and grocery stores, may remain open during the COVID-19 emergency,” Feuer said. “We’re all safer at home. Nonessential businesses remaining open at this time jeopardize public health and safety, and my office is committed to vigorously enforcing the mayor’s order.”

Garcetti said the stores are putting lives at risk. At one store, police officers were told, “‘Forget you’ — probably not in as nice words — ‘we’re not going to do it,’” the mayor said.

“We want to let people know that we are serious about this, that businesses that flagrantly violate this will be shut down short term and prosecuted in the medium term as well,” Garcetti said.

Feuer’s office identified the businesses charged as Business Discount Electronics, 556 S. Broadway; Hot Box Smoke Shop, 9115 S. Western Ave.; DTLA Smoke Shop, 223 1/2 W. 6th St.; and Brother Shoes, 818 W. Slauson Ave., Unit B. Calls to the businesses went unanswered Friday.

Los Angeles police this week began referring cases to the city attorney of businesses believed to be violating the emergency order. Feuer said his office is reviewing an additional 30 referrals for possible prosecution.

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The city turned to prosecutions after the city attorney’s Neighborhood Prosecutor Program, Tobacco Enforcement Program and Safe Neighborhoods and Gangs Division, in coordination with the Mayor’s Ambassadors Program, had failed to secure voluntary compliance of those nonessential businesses operating during the pandemic. Their collaborative effort has succeeded in dozens of other businesses recognizing their obligation to close to protect the health of the community.

City officials led by Garcetti have been warning since last week that they will prosecute those nonessential businesses still open. The mayor said the Department of Water and Power would cut off service to the premises of noncompliant businesses.

Most beaches, trails, recreation areas and other points of interest are closed, including trails in Griffith Park and Runyon Canyon Park in Los Angeles.

Under the Safer at Home order, all nonessential businesses are supposed to close.

What stays open:

  • Pharmacies
  • Food: Grocery stores, farmers markets, food banks, convenience stores, takeout and delivery restaurants
  • Banks
  • Gas stations
  • Laundromats/laundry services
  • Essential state and local government functions including law enforcement and offices that provide government programs and services

What is closed:

  • Bars and nightclubs
  • Entertainment venues
  • Gyms and fitness studios
  • Public events and gatherings
  • Convention centers
  • Dine-in restaurants
  • Many parks, beaches, trails, recreation areas
  • All other nonessential businesses