Key West restaurant owner arrested after refusing to close doors after curfew

Restaurant owner in Key West arrested for staying open after curfew
Restaurant owner in Key West arrested for staying open after curfew

KEY WEST, Fla. – Curfews and other restrictions are in place for Monroe County as officials try to stem a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Over the long weekend, officers stepped up enforcement.

A SWAT team, officers with long guns and code enforcement were seen swarming a restaurant on popular Duval Street in Key West, enforcing a 10 p.m. curfew over the New Year’s holiday weekend.

It prompted a small protest and at least 16 people were arrested.

Restaurant owner Joe Walsh welcomed the New Year behind bars.

“I was hoping for a little bit happier new year than that,” he said. “They came on to the property, ordered my staff to take payment for any of the bills that were outstanding and ordered the customers to leave under threat of arrest.”

Walsh said he was aware of the city’s curfew but kept his doors open anyway, pointing to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order limiting local governments from enforcing COVID-19 restrictions on businesses.

“We obviously, as with all situations, prepare for the worst, hoping of the best, and we got a little bit of both,” said Walsh.

Key West City Manager Greg Veliz explained why the curfew could be enforced.

“Our right to have a curfew was upheld in federal court, so I think that dispelled any of the rumors that we didn’t have the right to do so,” Veliz said.

The curfew is no longer in effect, but critics of the measure like Walsh say they’re worried.

“Are we going to get these every weekend?” Walsh asked. “Is Key West now going to be a place that someone is trying to make not fun?”

The City of Key West will have a commission meeting Tuesday to debrief how things went over the weekend and whether or not more Covid restrictions like curfews are needed.

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