A woman without a mask, who refused to leave a Costa Mesa grocery store, was found guilty of trespassing on Wednesday after becoming the only person to stand trial in Orange County for failing to comply with face closure requirements at local businesses caused by the pandemic.
A jury of the Orange County Supreme Court found Marianne Campbell Smith guilty on two misdemeanors – trespassing and obstructing businesses or customers – following her arrest on August 15, 2020, at the busy Mother’s Market near Triangle Square during a disguise protest.
Judge John Zitney immediately sentenced Smith to 40 hours of community service and a year of unofficial probation. The judge also ordered her to pay a $ 200 fine and stay out of the Costa Mesa Mother Market.
In a statement read in court ahead of the sentencing, District Attorney Todd Spitzer said the case was about protecting private property rights.
“The defendant wanted to talk about masks and freedom,” Spitzer said. “This test involved private businesses and workers who were simply trying to comply with health regulations. Instead, she mocked the store and shouted to masked elderly customers that they were part of a government conspiracy. ”
Smith, who identified herself as a nurse and mother of three, said she has a medical condition that prevents her from wearing masks. Her lawyer added that she entered the store for food and soft drinks, and not in protest.
“Justice did not prevail, but I accept it,” said 57-year-old Smith in front of the courthouse after the sentencing. “Because today it was important to talk about these issues.”
The second woman arrested along with Smith, Jennifer Marie Sterling, had previously accepted a plea deal in which she agreed to make a donation to the Covid Nursing Fund and plead in violation for refusing to leave the store at the behest of a police officer following a request from the owner. The third unmasked woman who entered the grocery store with Smith and Sterling apparently left before the officers arrived.
The Orange County Police and Attorney’s Office is almost exclusively focused on education and outreach about mask requirements and other coronavirus-related restrictions, largely avoiding arrests or criminal charges. The Smith & Sterling case was the only recorded arrest or indictment of individuals, and only one local business owner – a bar on the Costa Mesa – was prosecuted for violating Covid restrictions.
Assistant District Attorney Susan Price admitted to the jury that a nationwide debate over Covid masks and restrictions was an accompanying issue in Smith’s trial. But the prosecutor has repeatedly stressed that the crux of the matter is in fact focused on the right of private businesses to set their own rules designed to protect workers and employees, and on their right to ask Smith to leave the store if she does not follow those rules. …
“Grocery stores are not a public forum for discussion. Grocery stores are not a forum for protests, ”Price said. “They have the right to say, ‘We’re not going to make our employees feel insecure.”
Price accused Smith of deliberately disrupting the normal operation of the market in order to give political meaning. The prosecutor also referred to testimony from a store employee that Smith confronted other customers.
Smith’s lawyer, Frederic Fachenelli, denied that Smith was disturbing the order and accused the store manager of trying to intimidate her by forcing a large security guard to follow her around the market.
“The only people who made the scene were the employees,” Fascinelli said.
The lawyer also wondered why Smith was not charged with violating the mask requirements that were added to the Costa Mesa municipal code.
“It’s all political,” Fascinelli said. “They are trying to squeeze in these illegal infiltration charges because they do not want to touch the third rail of politics, which is the masked mandate.”
Numerous Costa Mesa officers, including a SWAT team, were on hold that day due to a planned camouflage protest at the corner of Newport Boulevard and 19th Street.
At the time, Costa Mesa Mother Market store manager Eric Katz revealed that he stood in front of Smith and two of her comrades as they entered the market without masks. The manager described women passing by him, although he admitted that they did not make physical contact.
The manager testified that Smith and two other women ignored his repeated requests to wear a mask or leave the store. He added that he gave women the opportunity to provide a list of products that employees could bring them, or to use an online service like Instacart.
While Smith and two other women were at the store, a group of two dozen protesters, including several waving flags that read Trump 2020, Keep America Great, and Keep Your Politics Out of Our Faces, gathered in front of the house. entering the Mother Market by forcing employees to lock the front door. According to witness statements, the customers in the store were escorted to the exit through the back door.
Employees refused to call Smith when she was trying to buy a bag of chips and a container of pasta salad. Smith left $ 5 at the box office and left.
Surveillance videos showed Smith attempting to leave the market immediately after police entered the store.
She and Sterling were stopped by the police, handcuffed and taken out of the market. An officer testified that protesters outside the store shouted “shame, shame, shame” to the police, and at least one compared them to the Nazis.
The prosecutor said Smith, a South Orange County resident, turned down a pre-trial distraction proposal that would have dropped charges if Smith had completed 10 hours of community service.
Smith wore a clear plastic face mask during a three-day trial in a Westminster courtroom. Face masks are currently required for visitors and staff of Orange County Courts.