The owner of Big Daddy Zan’s Bar in Odessa, Gabrielle Ellison, was arrested Monday after a SWAT team was sent to shut her business down. She was charged with violating Gov. Abbott’s executive order that certain small businesses, including bars, remain closed.
Ellison says the financial hardship caused by the mandated closures was the reason she was compelled to reopen her business.
According to sources close to the planning of the event, Ellison extended an invitation to a group of protestors who have been traveling the state to show support for small businesses deciding to reopen early. The group is known for waiving patriotic flags, holding protest signs, and openly carrying firearms as a political statement condemning the closures that have wrecked the economy and placed unbearable strains on small-business owners. Most notably, the group attended the reopening of Salon A La Mode in Dallas, when owner Shelley Luther opened her doors in defiance of local officials.
Ellison reportedly gave permission to the protest group to do the demonstration on property she owns next to the bar—a parking lot zoned separately from the bar itself.
However, the protest was suddenly stopped when an armored personnel carrier from the Ector County Sheriff’s Office—as well as dozens of local and state police—descended on the protest with weapons drawn and placed 10 people under arrest.
Ellison was charged with violating the governor’s order, a class A criminal misdemeanor that carries a punishment of a fine and up to one year in jail.
The charges against eight of the demonstrators, who were openly carrying firearms, have drawn statewide scrutiny from gun-rights activists and policy experts. The eight demonstrators were charged with the unlawful carrying of a weapon on the “premises” of a place licensed to sell alcoholic beverages.
One person was charged with interfering with the duties of a peace officer.
At a press conference Tuesday, Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis defended the arrests, saying that while he doesn’t always agree with what Gov. Greg Abbott or the Texas Legislature does, and while he hopes to see the economy opened back up, this event wasn’t about Second Amendment rights or protesting. Griffis added that the demonstrators came from all over the state to encourage the bar owner to defy the governor, instill fear, and provoke others.
He went on to say several times that this wasn’t a protest, saying, “They were just standing around with guns.”
Griffis also talked about the definition of the word “premises” as it relates to carrying a firearm at bar, saying “premises” is any property controlled by the license holder.
The statutory definition the sheriff cited appears to be part of Chapter 11.49 of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, which states: “In this code, ‘premises’ means the grounds and all buildings, vehicles, and appurtenances pertaining to the grounds, including any adjacent premises if they are directly or indirectly under the control of the same person.”
Gun-rights activists say this interpretation of the law is wrong, pointing out that Chapter 46 of the Texas Penal Code, which is the law the demonstrators were charged under, has its own definition of the word “premises” under section 46.035, which states: “‘Premises’ means a building or a portion of a building. The term does not include any public or private driveway, street, sidewalk or walkway, parking lot, parking garage, or other parking area.”
The activists argue that since the demonstrators were in an adjacent parking lot owned by Ellison, the statute protects the right of the demonstrators to have a firearm where they were.
“These are grossly illegal arrests,” attorney Tony McDonald commented. “Police using massive force to crush opposition. Totally detestable.”
Texas Scorecard reached out to the Ector County district attorney’s office multiple times, seeking a copy of the probable cause of arrest affidavits against the demonstrators. However, calls were not returned, and the office would not provide an email address to send public information requests for the affidavits. As of publishing, the affidavits were still not available.
It is important to note that without further information, it isn’t entirely clear exactly what specific statute(s) the demonstrators were charged under.
Attempts to reach bar owner Gabrielle Ellison for comment were also not returned.