Michigan diner owner out of jail after ignoring virus orders

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DETROIT (AP) – A Michigan restaurant owner who likened the state’s coronavirus restrictions to her childhood in communist Eastern Europe was released Tuesday after four nights in jail for ignoring orders to shut down.

Marlena Pavlos-Hackney paid a $15,000 fine and satisfied authorities that Marlena’s Bistro and Pizzeria in Holland finally would remain closed while it lacks a food license. Her supporters boarded up the doors but also turned the building into a symbol of defiance with signs such as “Stop The Injustice.”

Some bars, restaurants, gyms and other businesses have been fined for violating Michigan’s restrictions during the pandemic. But Pavlos-Hackney’s arrest before dawn Friday broke new ground and angered her allies, especially Republican lawmakers.

Pavlos-Hackney is “Michigan’s first political prisoner of the pandemic,” state Sen. Tom Barrett said on the Senate floor Tuesday, even offering to take her spot in jail.

“Come in the broad daylight. I just need a minute to pack my toothbrush,” Barrett said, aiming his words at Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

State regulators yanked Pavlos-Hackney’s food license in January for serving indoor diners and breaking other rules related to preventing the spread of COVID-19. The restaurant, however, stayed open – and customers flocked there.

A judge ultimately ordered her arrest, which was executed during a traffic stop. Despite warnings, Pavlos-Hackney had refused to turn herself in to face a contempt hearing.

“We don’t want this country to be a communist regime that’s going to dictate what we can do and what we cannot do,” the 55-year-old native of Poland said last week.

Michigan’s ban on indoor dining was lifted on Feb. 1 after 10 weeks, although there are capacity limits in bars and restaurants.

Before sending her to jail, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina told Pavlos-Hackney that she was selfish.

“She has put the community at risk. We are in the middle of a pandemic,” the judge said Friday.

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AP reporter David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan, contributed to this story.

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Follow Ed White at http://twitter.com/edwritez

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