SWAT team brought in to arrest armed, peaceful protesters at Texas bar

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Michael Merlo

Odessa American, Texas

Armed organizers of a Monday rally to help a local bar owner reopen despite the governor’s order remain at odds with local law enforcement who called the event a show of force and not a protest.

Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis during a Tuesday news conference said that the arrests made at Big Daddy Zane’s in West Odessa Monday were of the bar owner for violating Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order and of protestors carrying weapons on property where alcohol is sold.

Griffis said six were charged with felonies related to unlawfully carrying a weapon on a licensed premise, one for interfering with the duties of a peace officer and the owner for violating the Governor’s orders.

After the news conference, Gabrielle Ellison, 47, stood in the Ector County Sheriff’s Office parking lot with a few of her employees holding protest signs. She said bringing a SWAT team was “over forced” and that the armed protesters were on her private property different from the bar.

“It’s separated,” she said, “different taxes, different everything.”

Ellison told armed protesters to stand behind her bar’s property and on her private property. She has said she is going broke because her bar has been shut down during the COVID-19 crisis and she is worried about her employees. She and others also took issue with game rooms being allowed to open at 25 percent but not bars.

The Monday protest had about 20 people with assistance from Open Texas, a group that has traveled around the state with weapons, trying to help businesses that the Governor deemed “non-essential” reopen their doors in what Open Texas members say is a, “peaceful” way.

Griffis said that he doesn’t agree with everything that Gov. Abbott does, but that his order is the law of the land.

“I’m ready for everybody to get back to work,” he said, “and this entire thing from yesterday has zero to do with the Second Amendment rights of our citizens in this country.”

He said that if the Governor told him to seize everyone’s guns, then, “I’d tell him to go jump out over a cliff. It ain’t gonna happen. We’re not gonna take good citizen’s guns from them.”

He said that Open Texas was not protesting for their rights, but, “It was a show of force to ensure this lady could violate the Governor’s order. They weren’t holding signs and protesting. This was not a Second Amendment protest at all.”

He added that, “This is an issue with carrying firearms and trying to intimidate people and provoke a response.”

He said that the armed protesters were on an alcohol licensed premise and that he wasn’t trying to violate anybody’s Second Amendment rights.

“If you don’t like what our Governor’s doing, vote for somebody else for Governor. That’s all I can tell you. He has put forth what he believes is the best for our state, for our citizens. He is our duly elected governor and that’s what we’re gonna follow.”

“This is not the way to do this,” he said, “bringing a bunch of people from other parts of the state in here to try to meet your goal. There’s a better way to do this. Let’s do it together,” he said adding that he would sign his name to, “a good prudent document” to send to the Governor to get Ector County citizens back to work.

Griffis said that the Ector County Sheriff’s Office has more work to do on the incident and that more updates would come later.

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.”

In an interview after the press conference, Archibald said that he pretty much runs the public relations for Open Texas and that he talks with business owners, “and makes sure that my guys are on board with our mission to do everything peacefully and really empower business owners to stand up for their First Amendment rights.”

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.”

He added that he thought all of the other members are still in the jail and he is working on getting them out. He said that they will continue to protest for other businesses trying to open when the other members are out.

“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.”

Ellison said she is not yet getting help from lawyers from Open Texas, but had the opportunity to speak with her own.

Ellison went to Jail Monday and was released later that day on a $500 bond. She said she would open the bar again, but with an attorney present.

“I believe that the guys were showing their Second Amendment to protect my First Amendment,” she said and that the Ector County Sheriff’s Department, “Stepped all over that Second Amendment, excessive force, used our tax dollars. They stepped all over the Second Amendment,” she said.

Those arrested for felonies of unlawful carrying of weapons were detailed in a press release by the Ector County Sheriff’s Department as, Wyatt Winn, 23, of Frisco, Jesse Semrad, 36, of Tyler, Caro O’Brien, 19, of Amarillo Joshua Watt, 31, of Odessa, Anthony Elder, 24, of Mansfield and Braden Burnery, 21, of Midlothian. As of Tuesday, the press release details, all are still in custody.

Trinity Jackson, 31, was charged with interference with public duty and released on a $500 bond Tuesday.


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