UPDATE: City to take legal action against Madsen’s Bowling and Billiards

Published: Aug. 1, 2020 at 3:01 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - The general manager of a Lincoln business said he will not back down after being told to close for failure to comply with a Directed Health Measure.

City officials said they will take no further action today but will take civil legal action next week against Madsen’s Bowling & Billiards after the business failed to comply with an order by the Health Director of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department (LLCHD) to close for 24 hours.

The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department notified Madsen’s Bowling & Billiards on Saturday that they were not allowed to operate for 24 hours because their violations of the latest Directed Health Measure “presented a risk to public health and contribute to the community spread of COVID-19.” Madsen’s Bowling & Billiards was ordered to remain closed until Sunday, Aug. 2. The order is in effect from 2 pm. today to 2 pm. Sunday and includes EJ’s Lounge & Grill at the same location.

The general manager of Madsen’s is refusing to close, however, and is currently holding a professional pool tournament. He said the health department has threatened to arrest him, but that has not happened yet.

LLCHD said the DHM violations observed included signage on doors indicating that the wearing of masks was optional, employees not wearing face coverings, and no physical distancing of patrons.

General manager Ben Madsen told 10/11 NOW, employees weren’t wearing masks due to health reasons.

“Employees told me I am not allowed to wear a mask due to reasons that I don’t feel comfortable telling you, and as a boss, I don’t have a right to that information and I don’t press,” said Madsen.

The DHM states that failure to comply will result in legal action for enforcement by civil and/or criminal remedies. According to the LMC, “any person who is found to have violated any provision of this Order within the City of Lincoln shall be guilty of a City Misdemeanor and subjected to a fine of no more than $500.00, or imprisonment in the county jail for a period not to exceed six (6) months or both. Each day that a violation of this Order continues is punishable as a separate and distinct offense.” The DHM also states that the City Attorney “may institute injunctive or other appropriate civil proceedings necessary to obtain compliance or to abate any nuisance resulting from violations of this Order.”

Two Lincoln Police Officers accompanied a representative of LLCHD in delivering the notice to Madsen’s, and Health Director Pat Lopez said this is common practice for LLCHD.

City Attorney Yohance Christie said it is the responsibility of businesses to follow the DHM requirements, and no legal action would be taken against customers of the business. But Lopez today reminded residents that the risk of COVID-19 spread locally remains high.

“Our contact tracing has shown that many individuals tested positive for COVID-19 after patronizing bars and not wearing masks,” Lopez said. “This is a very risky behavior. We need our residents to take personal responsibility for their actions. This virus spreads quickly, and the actions we take now can jeopardize not just the health of our loved ones, but also the health of our entire community.”

A mask mandate is included in the DHM that went into effect July 20 and is in effect through August 31. It requires business owners to ensure their patron’s age five and older wear face coverings any time they cannot maintain six feet of separation with non-household members. The DHM also requires businesses to limit parties of eight or less; to maintain at least six feet of distance between tables of patrons, and to limit capacity. The Lincoln Municipal Code allows the Health Director to order the closure of any business for the purpose of controlling communicable diseases.

On Saturday, Ben Madsen said he was willing to go to jail.

“I’ll just wait and see what happens and if anything does happen, I’ll stand up for our rights as free citizens of the United States of America,” said Ben Madsen.

As of Sunday night, Madsen said he would be reading into everything and would figure out where to go from here. At 9 p.m. there were still dozens of people inside of the business.

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