State health officials have ordered Self Made Training Facility in Scottsdale to close for violating rules aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19, but owner Jeffrey Mahaffey says he is keeping the business open.
Mahaffey said he has been cited dozens of times by Scottsdale police since summer for disobeying the governor’s executive orders. Now, he refuses to comply with the state order, which he says is overreaching.
He said he tore down the closure notice that the Arizona Department of Health Services hung in his gym’s window on Wednesday, and he won’t stop doing business even if the state tries to padlock his doors.
“They can try,” Mahaffey told The Arizona Republic on Friday. “I’ll just take the doors off the hinges if that’s the case … I will not close my business.”
State health officials ordered his gym to close for violating rules intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19, officials said Friday, making it the second gym to face such sanctions this month.
Defiant throughout pandemic
Mahaffey has defied the governor’s orders since June, telling reporters over the summer that he would not comply with the order that had closed gyms in Maricopa County from late June to late August.
“I told them to go ahead and bring 31 citations if that’s the way it’s going to be every day, so we can save taxpayer dollars and time and effort, because we weren’t going to be closing,” Mahaffey told The Republic in July.
He apparently got through the summer without tougher action by state health officials.
When gyms were allowed to reopen in August, Mahaffey never filled out the paperwork that DHS required to reopen, according to Friday’s DHS notice.
Self Made Training Facility in Scottsdale has stayed open despite Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order to close gyms because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The unsigned paperwork was an attestation that the business would follow the gym-specific guidelines for reopening. Bars that serve food had their own attestations to sign to reopen.
“I don’t need to sign a form to reopen because I never closed,” Mahaffey said Friday.
The attestation forms from the state are “a giant setup for them to come in and shut you down,” he said.
Gym owner refuses to require masks
Mahaffey doesn’t agree with many of the state health department’s protocols, particularly one that requires people in gyms to wear a mask.
“Unfortunately, I am not going to tell people what they have to do in our facility,” he said.
Mahaffey said his gym has a few patrons who choose to wear a mask, while most are thankful the gym doesn’t require them. He said tens of thousands of visits have been logged at the gym during the pandemic and he hasn’t gotten one report of someone getting sick at the gym.
Mahaffey said his citations from the city are in court now.
State law says that violating an emergency executive order is a class 1 misdemeanor, which carries the potential of six months imprisonment and a $2,500 fine.
Mahaffey said he has been cited 42 times. Scottsdale police did not confirm that number, but the City Court website shows more than 30 counts against him for failure or refusal to obey an emergency management order.
If Mahaffey has been cited 42 times, the total fines might exceed $100,000 and he could face 21 years imprisonment if he were found guilty on each count.
He said he is willing to keep fighting because he believes he will eventually be vindicated in federal court.
“We might lose in Scottsdale court, but when we go to federal court, we will not lose,” he said. “It’s definitely not going to be the easiest road to take.”
Mahaffey said that as a U.S. Marine, he fought for freedoms guaranteed Americans, and now he is exercising that freedom.
“We all have the right to pursue the American dream, right?” he said. “Our constitutional rights give us that right. I was in the Marine Corps for 10 years … I fought for that right for all of us individuals, to live the life we live. Now it’s my turn to reap the benefits of that. It’s not just something you’re going to tell me I can’t do and take it away from me.”
Mahaffey doesn’t have employees, instead operating like a beauty salon where trainers work as independent contractors at his facilities, working with a variety of clients. He also operates a gym in Phoenix.
“We have over 100 people who run their businesses out of our facilities,” he said. “It’s not about us just fighting the man or anything like that. It’s about keeping these people putting food on the table.”
The gym fight in Arizona
Gyms, bars that serve food, theaters and water parks all were closed during the summer surge in coronavirus cases. Some were even cited because they refused to follow the orders initially.
But a group of gyms, lead by Mountainside Fitness and Eos Fitness, sued.
The judge in that case said the businesses had to be given the opportunity to reopen, so DHS developed a complex set of guidelines that would allow them to reopen if their county hit certain COVID-19 benchmarks.
They also could get special permission to reopen before a county reduced its COVID-19 cases, although few businesses were granted that permission.
In late August, Maricopa County and much of the state hit its benchmarks, and businesses were allowed to reopen, if business representatives signed attestation forms agreeing to abide by rules such as requiring masks and keeping customers and workers physically distanced.
State health officials have said that across-the-board gym closures are unlikely again even as cases increase because mitigation strategies such as mask wearing now are in place.
However, state health officials are checking to ensure individual businesses comply with regulations. DHS has issued closure notices to 10 clubs/bars and two gyms for violating the orders. The other 11 complied with the notice by closing, DHS spokesman Steve Elliott said.
At least three have since worked with DHS to come into compliance and reopen, he said.
DHS can take those that do not comply to court.
“To enforce the Executive Order and closure notice, ADHS can and will seek a court order to either close a business or compel the business to follow the Executive Order,” Elliott said Friday.
Reach reporter Ryan Randazzo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-444-4331. Follow him on Twitter @UtilityReporter.
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