Defiant Gym Owners Get Summons for Opening Up — But Not Shut Down
BELLMAWR — A protest at a Camden County gym that opened in defiance of Gov. Phil Murphy's executive orders ended peacefully on Monday — with a summons for the owners, but none for those gathered.
Police also didn't shut down Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, though it's unclear what enforcement might take place if it remains open in the days ahead.
An estimated 200 supporters of the gym gathered in the parking lot early Monday, some waving American flags and carrying pro-Trump posters. The doors opened up at 8AM as the the first members checked in and had their temperatures taken before going inside to workout. The gym had said it would operate under revised rules meant to limit capacity and encourage social distancing.
Five Bellmawr police officers showed up with a public works crew and blocked off the entrances to the shopping center where the gym is located. An officer addressed the crowd around 10:30 a.m. after staying near their vehicles for several hours.
"The crowd was anticipating the police were going to shut the gym down. They started to chant 'police stand down, police stand down.' One of the employees calmed the crowd and asked that we acknowledge the police and be respectful," protester Steve Daskas of Woolwich told the Townsquare News Network.
An officer told those gathered police were only there to protect the crowd's safety.
“We prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. You are all in violation of governor’s executive order. On that note, stay safe and have a nice day," the officers said and walked away to cheers from the crowd, according to a video taken by Daskas.
Under an order issued in March, all businesses deemed non-essential are closed in New Jersey. Murphy's recent updates to his order allow for non-essential retail businesses to conduct sales with curbside pickup and allow for some outside recreation, but gyms remain closed.
State Police superintendent Patrick Callahan, at Monday's daily briefing by state officials, said gym co-owners Ian Smith and Frank Trumbetti were issued summonses and the crowd was warned of the violation.
Bellmawr police chief William Walsh said in a statement Smith and Trumbetti were each issued a disorderly persons offense because of their violation of the executive order. A disorderly persons offense can result in a fine of up to $1,000.
Police did not take anyone's name or issue summonses to anyone in the crowd, Daskas said.
Gov. Phil Murphy issued a broad, vague warning to supporters and members who return to the club on Tuesday.
"If you show up at that gym tomorrow there's going to be a different reality that what was shown today. These aren't just words. We've gotta enforce this but I also don't want to start World War III and I'm not worried about that right now," Murphy said.
The governor said he's not worried about other businesses defying the executive order, because of the actions of the public so far.
"People have overwhelmingly done the right thing and they continue to do the right thing because they're smart, they get what we're dealing with," Murphy said.
Trumbetti said he was surprised by the action of police, in a statement to several media outlets at the scene. He said police present were doing their jobs, and "know" that he and Smith did nothing wrong.
"It's about time for every police officer out there to understand we all have rights and, even as a police officer, you don't have to do this. It is unconstitutional. It's that simple. We have the right to work," Trumbetti said.
Belmawr Mayor Charles J. Sauter III in a statement praised the way his police handled the situation and the crowd as well.
"With respect to the opening of Atilis Gym, from the start, this matter has been handled exclusively and appropriately by law enforcement, including our local police department. I am proud of the manner in which the Bellmawr Police Department conducted themselves this morning as well as the respect shown toward our police officers by the general public," Sauter said.