Niles roller rink chained, owner fined after violating MDHHS orders

NILES – A padlocked chain and caution tape showed up at Galaxy Roller Rink in Niles over the weekend.

The owner, Amy Kidwell, said it was what she was instructed to do after a three-hour court hearing on Friday in Berrien County.

“There’s to be no activity on the premises, meaning me or my family or anything else,” Kidwell said. I’m the only one that can be in the building for maintenance, or to hire maintenance for a building problem, or for immediate employees to get personal belongings.”

It is the latest development in Kidwell’s fight with the Berrien County Health Department.

In a post on the Galaxy Roller Rink of Niles Facebook page on Friday, Kidwell updated her followers about her court proceedings.

“My doors at my business are being chained closed. My driveway is being closed off, and I am to conduct no business on the premises with even the judge ruling over Gov. [Gretchen] Whitmer’s orders,” Kidwell said. “I have been persecuted and treated like a criminal with the judge wanting me to serve 93 days in jail.”

In the post, Kidwell said her lawyer has postponed her going to jail on the contingency that she does not violate the judge’s orders. Another punishment handed down by Judge Dennis Wiley in the Berrien County courts on Friday to Kidwell was a $15,000 fine due by July 2.

To raise money for the fine, Kidwell has posted a GoFundMe page titled “Niles Galaxy Roller Rink legal fees.” As of Tuesday morning, the page had raised $7,727 out of the $15,000 goal.

Kidwell said in an earlier interview she reopened Galaxy Roller Rink after the original dates of the three week “pause to save lives” handed down by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The order was delivered by Whitmer on Sunday, Nov. 15 and went into effect Nov. 18. The order would have expired Dec. 9, but was extended 12 more days. Kidwell said she thought the order had been lifted at the time.

The following weekend, the roller rink hosted a protest and collected donations during open skate times on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Kidwell then continued to open the roller rink for holidays and weekends through the end of December and New Year’s Eve.

According to the legal complaint document, dated Dec. 17, the BCHD notified the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department after receiving “several tips” from the COVID-19 restriction tip online form. On Dec. 4, a tip was given the roller rink was open with more than 30 juveniles lined up to enter without wearing masks.

BCSD Deputy Vanessa Williams arrived at Galaxy Roller Rink and found around 20 juveniles waiting to enter the building around 7:28 p.m. In the complaint, it states Williams spoke with Kidwell and issued a warning of violation of the public health emergency order.

On Dec. 11, Williams arrived the business at 7:58 p.m. and found cars in the parking lot and Kidwell admitting skaters. Inside, Williams found 100 or more juveniles inside, with staff and skaters not wearing masks. In the complaint, Williams spoke with Kidwell and after determining she remembered the warning, issued a citation for violating the order.

On Dec. 12, another violation was documented.

“[Health officer] Nicki Britten came across information posted by Galaxy Roller Rink that they intended to continue to operate open skate in defiance of the December order, on Dec. 18, 19 and 20,” the complaint said, indicating Facebook posts made by the company.

On Monday evening, Gillian Conrad, communications manager for the BCHD addressed some of the court proceedings.

“After being made aware of skating parties at Galaxy Roller Rink in Niles Township, the BCSH contacted the business owner and instructed her to stop operations, which were in violation of current Michigan public health orders,” Conrad said. “When the owner repeatedly refused, the Berrien County Trial Court issued a restraining order. The court order was ignored, resulting in a hearing before Judge Dennis Wiley on Jan. 8. Judge Wiley issues another order which requires that the premises be padlocked and the business owner must pay enforcement costs within 180 days. Further violations could include jail time for the business owner.”

Conrad said the BCHD begins addressing violations with education on why the orders are implemented in the first place, including public safety. She said when there are repeat and willful violations, then it is elevated to include law enforcement.

“We rarely have to go down the legal path that we did with the roller rink, but we have processes to follow with the prosecutor and the courts if it gets to that point,” Conrad said.

Kidwell said Galaxy Roller Rink is working with Michigan State Representative for the 78th district Brad Paquette and Tammy Clark, of Stand Up Michigan, as well as seeking the guidance of Constitutional law lawyers.

This is a developing story and will be updated as information becomes available.

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