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One U.S. Marine veteran has been making a stand for small business owners in the state of North Carolina for nearly a month now as local authorities try to figure out what the appropriate procedures are for the coronavirus.
Nicholas Koumalatsos, the owner of Snap Fitness training facility in Holly Ridge made a decision to reopen his business on May 1 under CDC-recommended guidelines despite executive orders from Gov. Roy Cooper that extended the state’s lockdown to May 8, he explained in a 21-minute YouTube video – which has garnered well over 722,500 views as of Friday. These orders resulted in what Koumalatsos alleges to be harassment from local law enforcement.
The 12-year Special Operations Marine Corps veteran described the orders to be unconstitutional in his eyes and said that he had watched three businesses shut down in one month over the restrictions. By May 7, Koumalatsos said Holly Ridge police officers entered his training facility without a warrant and cited him for violating the orders with an attached class two misdemeanor.
FOX Business reached out to the Holly Ridge Police Department about the matter but a spokesperson said the organization would not offer a statement at this time. Nor did FOX Business hear back from Koumalatsos after multiple attempts to make contact.
“There has been a lot of attention on the Holly Ridge Police Department warning and shutting down a local 24-hour gym, Snap Fitness. The police department was enforcing Governor Cooper's Executive order after receiving advice from the Onslow County District Attorney, Ernie Lee,” a press release issued on behalf of Holly Ridge said, which was issued on May 20 –a day after Koumalatsos YouTube video was posted. “The Executive Order states that gyms are not to be open during Phase 1. The officers are employed by the Town of Holly Ridge, and routinely reach out to the DA for guidance. Police officers are officers of the state and the DA represents the state at the local level.”
“They gave me a class two misdemeanor… I received a class two misdemeanor and we closed the gym and went on about our way,” Koumalatsos said in his video. “A couple of hours later, I was – I came home trying to cool off. Wrap my head around everything that’s been happening and the chief of police shows up. While I’m here at my home speaking to the chief of police of this town, the captain goes back to the gym and looks for me.”
To illustrate his point, Koumalatsos inserted a brief clip of Police Captain Ewan Richards re-visiting his business.
Ultimately, Police Chief Keith Whatley voided the citation.
“The way it was supposed to go down was each business gets three warnings and then a citation, and so he took the citation back,” Koumalatsos explained in his video.
Snap Fitness reopened on May 8 under the governor’s phase one plan, which opened up commercial activity for more businesses and 50 percent capacity in retail spaces, though it does not list gyms specifically. Koumalatsos said he received a call from the police chief the next day for allegedly violating orders and was given a formal first warning.
By May 18, Koumalatsos received a visit from Captain Richards – who recently began serving as the department’s acting chief after the former’s alleged “temporary relieve” – informed Koumalatsos that he was in violation of the governor’s orders by having his training facility open.
Koumalatsos continues to describe Richards’s subsequent return at 3 p.m. that day along with security camera footage that shows the captain-turned-acting-chief entered Snap Fitness with a key card. The veteran goes as far as to say that the entry was done without a warrant and that he considers it illegal trespassing.
The Town of Holly Ridge refuted Koumalatsos accusation of its officers using an old personal key card to gain access to the facility.
“This accusation is not true. Snap Fitness had previously given the Holly Ridge Police a key card. 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 Holly Ridge’s press release stated. “The Town Council has and will continue to support the Holly Ridge Police Department in their discretion in following the advice of the district attorney.”
Inside and outside the facility, Koumalatsos said officers were attempting to photograph the faces and license plates of gym-goers for ticketing purposes. He added brief video clips of his interactions with Richards, but there is no recorded evidence of the said actions in these provided clips.
“That’s where I started to have the issue,” Koumalatsos said. “If you want to harass me, if you want to come at me, I’ve been in a fight, I know how to protect myself. I can take a beating. I can take all of it, you can ruin my life. I will rebuilt it again. What I cannot allow is for a law enforcement officer who’s also a marine have you – that swore an oath to protect its people, to protect the constitution, harass citizens of my town.”
Snap Fitness has been closed since the incident and Koumalatsos shared he is unsure of when his company will be allowed to reopen.
North Carolina's phase two reopening plan began May 22, according to the office of Holly Ridge Mayor Jeff Wenzel, and it does not include the reopening of gyms.
Though, the Town Council of Holly Ridge adopted a resolution on May 20 that has requested the governor’s office to allow business owners the ability to decide their own reopening under CDC guidelines.
Koumalatsos explained in his video that he feels it is unfair that big-box retailers can be open during the pandemic while small businesses have been asked to remain closed, and he equated current order to the criminalization of business owners.
“Currently ABC Stores, Tobacco Shops, and many other big businesses are allowed to operate under the essential clause however, small businesses are deemed non-essential,” he echoed in the written description that accompanies his YouTube video and all the other social media platforms where he has shared the vlog. “This is a clear picture of favoritism to businesses that have high sales tax rate for the state of North Carolina.”
This is a developing story.