ODESSA, Texas -- A bar owner and armed protesters were arrested in western Texas after the bar reopened despite the governor's orders to remain closed as the state continues to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis told the Odessa American that authorities on Monday apprehended Gabrielle Ellison, the 47-year-old owner of Big Daddy Zane's Bar, in West Odessa for violating Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's order that prohibits drinking establishments from opening until mid-May.
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Six men who had loaded "AR-15 type weapons" were also arrested for possessing firearms on a licensed property, Griffis said, adding that one observer was detained for interfering with a peace officer's duties.
"I understand their side of it," said Griffis. "Defying the governor's orders is one thing, but when you bring a bunch of armed vigilantes in from other parts of the state for a show of force, I just got a problem with that."
More than 20 people participated in the protest with help from Open Texas, an armed group that travels around the state trying to help reopen the doors of businesses that Abbott deemed "non-essential." The protesters had previously been at Anytime Fitness supporting the owner of the gym, which reopened on Friday in defiance of Abbott's statewide directive.
Prior to her arrest, Ellison on Monday told the newspaper that her business is losing money and her employees have struggled since she was forced to shut down the bar. Ellison added that she has been paying her staffers with no assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program.
"I think some rights were taken away from us which one of them was like a right to survive. We have to survive and I think those rights were stripped from us," she said.
The protest occurred just one day after state health officials on Sunday reported Texas surpassing 1,000 new coronavirus cases for the fourth straight day. As of Monday, Johns Hopkins data showed that Texas had roughly 32,800 confirmed cases and 901 related deaths.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
Owner, armed men held after bar reopens despite Texas' order