The governor of Texas has amended his lockdown executive order to free a salon owner who was jailed after refusing to close down her business.
Gov Greg Abbott’s order bans “confinement as a punishment” for violating virus mitigation orders.
Shelley Luther, the owner of Salon à la Mode in Dallas, was jailed for contempt of court on Tuesday after she refused to apologise and pay a fine for staying open despite official warnings.
Texas is nearing 1,000 Covid-19 deaths.
On Thursday, Gov Abbott said in a news release: “Throwing Texans in jail who have had their businesses shut down through no fault of their own is nonsensical, and I will not allow it to happen.”
“That is why I am modifying my executive orders to ensure confinement is not a punishment for violating an order. This order is retroactive to April 2nd, supersedes local orders and if correctly applied should free Shelley Luther.”
What else did the governor say?
He said his updated order should also lead to the release of Ana Isabel Castro-Garcia and Brenda Stephanie Mata, who were arrested in Laredo for allegedly selling cosmetic services from their homes.
He added: “As some county judges advocate for releasing hardened criminals from jail to prevent the spread of Covid-19, it is absurd to have these business owners take their place.”
Speaking from the White House, where he met President Trump on Thursday, Gov Abbott told reporters: “We should not be taking these people and put them behind bars, these people who have spent their life building up a business.”
Data from the Texas Department of State Health Services shows that more new cases are being recorded each day, even as the state begins to reopen parts of its economy.
Across the state, there have been over 35,000 confirmed infections.
How did Shelley Luther react?
Supporters chanted “Shelley’s free”, as she left the jail wearing a facemask on Thursday.
“I just want to thank all of you who I just barely met, and now you’re all my friends,” she told the crowd.
“You mean so much to me. This would have been nothing without you. Thank you so, so much.”
On Tuesday, Ms Luther was ordered to serve one week in jail after she defied a cease-and-desist letter and a restraining order requiring her to shut down her salon as a non-essential business.
At her hearing on Tuesday, Judge Eric Moyé said she could avoid jail if she apologised for being selfish, shut the salon and paid a fine.
But Ms Luther refused, saying “feeding my kids is not selfish”.
Ms Luther was fined $7,000 (£5,652) and was warned that she would be fined a further $500 a day from now until Friday if the business continued to remain open. She was ordered to remain in jail for seven days after the judge found her guilty of contempt of court.
Judge Moyé told Ms Luther: “The rule of law governs us. People cannot take it upon themselves to determine what they will and will not do.”
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A Dallas inspector and a police officer told the court that they saw clients inside getting haircuts and manicures, according to the Texas Tribune.
On 25 April, Ms Luther was pictured at a rally to reopen the state, ripping up a cease-and-desist letter that had been handed to her.
Last week, she told her followers on Facebook that she had a right to remain open.
What have other officials said?
On Thursday, the Texas Supreme Court ordered her freed from a Dallas County jail.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton descried the judge’s order as a “political stunt”.
“We just thought that was way over the top,” he told CBS. “It was an abuse of discretion and that the judge should not put people in jail like her who are just trying to make a living.”
On Wednesday, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick tweeted that he would personally pay off Ms Luther’s fine.
“7 days in jail, no bail and a $7K fine is outrageous,” he wrote.
“No surprise Texans are responding. I’m covering the $7K fine she had to pay and I volunteer to be placed under House Arrest so she can go to work and feed her kids.”
Also on Wednesday, Ms Luther receiving a show of support from former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who visited the salon on her way to Austin, Texas, to visit her daughter.