West TX Sheriff Stands By Arrest Of Armed Re-Open Protestors

Ector County, Texas Sheriff Mike Griffis says the arrest of eight individuals outside of a west Texas bar that had re-opened in violation of Gov. Greg Abbott’s emergency orders was legal, lawful, and not a violation of the Second Amendment rights of the gun owners who had gathered outside of Big Daddy Zane’s in Odessa to support the bar’s owner in re-opening.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Griffis elaborated on the arrests and even had an exchange with the unofficial spokesman for Open Texas, the group that showed up at the bar to back the re-opening.

The arrested protestors, he said, were violating the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission code.

“The premises is any property controlled by that person. All that property out there belongs to that lady,” he said.

Along with media during the press conference was Open Texas member Philip Archibald, 29, who was not arrested during Monday’s protest, because he was not armed. Archibald questioned Griffis about the TABC code saying, “What about Penal Code 46.035, that states that premises is the building and not the surrounding property, parking lots or anything else?”

In response Griffis read the TABC code saying that the, “Premises are the grounds and all buildings, vehicles and appurtenances pertaining to the grounds including any adjacent premises if they are directly or indirectly under control of the same person.”

Speaking with members of the press after the sheriff’s press conference, Archibald said members of Open Texas have peacefully protested while armed elsewhere around the state without any issue.

“We are not breaking laws. We are making sure that we are 100 percent within the laws. That’s why we did not get arrested in Dallas, didn’t get arrested in Houston or anywhere else…but we are going to continue helping businesses open up regardless of whether or not that’s against the Governor’s Executive Order because that order is unconstitutional.”

Under the TABC code, the carrying of firearms on the premises of establishments licensed to serve alcohol is prohibited. If the Open Texas group had been protesting on the public right of way, it sounds like the sheriff wouldn’t have had grounds to make arrests. In fact, the sheriff says that if the bar owner had simply quietly re-opened, officers likely wouldn’t have responded at all.

“Why draw attention to yourselves? I mean she could have opened up and we might not have known about it until the next day but when you cause this kind of commotion we’re going to take action,” said Sheriff Griffis.

Gabrielle Ellison, the bar’s owner, had also taken to social media to promote her re-opening.

The bar posted a Facebook event scheduled for May 4 called “Bars and bartenders standing united,” which had a photo of armed men in body armor posing in an undisclosed location.

“They will be here to help protect our rights as a small business owner to open and be able to feed our families,” according to the post.

That probably wasn’t the wisest course of action on the part of the bar owner, but then, this story is full of bad decisions on both sides. It sounds like the Open Texas crew should have better researched the TABC code, and the bar owner shouldn’t have bragged about re-opening on social media, but I’m still wondering why the sheriff felt it necessary to bring out the SWAT team and armored personnel carriers to Big Daddy Zane’s in response. Archibald asked the sheriff about that at Tuesday’s press conference as well, and the sheriff’s answer left a lot to be desired.

“We do it all the time, that was loaned to us by the federal government and we use it each time,” Sheriff Griffis responded.

Why, though? Sheriff Griffis talked about how the bar owner should have been more low-key in her re-opening, but I think that same logic applies to the response by the sheriff’s office. A couple of deputies coming out to explain to the protestors that they were in violation of TABC code might have defused the situation without the need for any arrests, especially given the fact that Archibald says Open Texas is committed to fighting what he considers to be unconstitutional orders by the governor in court.

Archibald said that, “I am working with some constitutional lawyers. We got some big names behind us and we’re gonna fight this. We’re gonna fight it the way regular people fight it, in the court cuz that’s where political battles are won.”

The courts are absolutely where these battles need to be fought and won right now, but both backers of the re-open movement and law enforcement officers like Sheriff Griffis need to pick their battles, and their tactics, wisely.