‘They were making a huge scene’: SSB restaurant owner explains why police were called on unmasked couple

Updated: Aug. 13, 2020 at 11:32 PM EDT
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SURFSIDE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) – Two people were cited for violating Gov. Henry McMaster’s executive order requiring face masks inside all South Carolina restaurants.

Surfside Beach Police Chief Kenneth Hofmann said the couple was cited Sunday at Famous Hamburger Joe’s.

But the owner of the restaurant wants to clear the air about why police were called in the first place after receiving backlash on social media. He said officers weren’t called because of the mask issue.

“Police were called because of the disruptive scene, not because they weren’t wearing masks,” owner Tony Cherney said. “They were making a huge scene in the restaurant where safety was a concern.”

Cherney said the couple walked inside of the restaurant and pushed past the hostess while refusing to wear a mask. He added that the couple grabbed an employee by the arm and demanded to be served. A manager tried to diffuse the situation by offering the couple a mask, but Cherney said that’s when the two started cursing and yelling at the staff.

A manager at the restaurant felt the only option was to call the Surfside Beach police.

But when officers spoke with the couple they continued to refuse to wear masks. Both were given a $100 citation for violating Gov. Henry McMaster’s executive order, Hoffman said.

At the end of July, McMaster announced it was mandatory for employees and customers to wear face masks while inside restaurants.

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Cherney explained if someone else called police to complain the restaurant wasn’t following the mask order, the business could have been cited.

“The police chief made it very clear you jeopardize your liquor license if you don’t tell patrons they need to wear masks,” Cherney said. “There are a lot of paychecks at risk when places get shut down.”

This is the first time the Surfside Beach Police Department needed to issue citations for mask violations.

“The police department was proactive to try to prevent this. We sent officers to every restaurant or bar in town with a copy of the executive order,” Hofmann explained.

In order to help businesses comply with the order, officers with SBPD provided businesses with a cheat sheet breaking down the laws.

“We were appreciative that we had that kind of community relationship with a business that they called us for help,” explained Hofmann.

Hofman added that businesses always have the right to refuse service if a customer is not abiding by the governor’s executive order.

“We don’t want people to get into arguments or disagreements and we certainly don’t want people to get hurt or create a disturbance,” Hofmann said. “A business certainly has the right to refuse service to someone that is not in compliance. And in the event someone becomes disruptive or safety is in danger, we certainly do hope our business owners feel comfortable calling us and trust we will come and do everything we can to de-escalate the situation.”

Citizens that don’t comply with McMaster’s mask ordinance for restaurants could be fined $100, which is what the couple received after refusing to wear masks inside Hamburger Joe’s.

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