The attorney general of the state of Texas, Ken Paxton, on Wednesday described as “outrageous” a judge’s order that the owner of a hair salon spend a week in jail after she continued to operate her business despite restrictions put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter to Dallas County Judge Eric Moye, Paxton called for the release of Shelley Luther from jail. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a fellow Republican, also issued a statement calling for her release.
“I find it outrageous and out of touch that during this national pandemic, a judge, in a county that actually released hardened criminals for fear of contracting COVID-19, would jail a mother for operating her hair salon in an attempt to put food on her family’s table,” Paxton said.
Luther was booked in the Dallas County jail on Tuesday afternoon following a video hearing, during which she was found in contempt of court. The hearing occurred as Abbott relaxed more restrictions statewide, allowing barbershops and hair salons to reopen Friday.
Last month, Luther was issued a citation for keeping open her Dallas salon despite state and local directives that kept nonessential businesses closed.
In Tuesday’s hearing, Luther said she kept the salon open because she needed the money.
“I couldn’t feed my family, and my stylists couldn’t feed their families,” Luther testified, saying she had applied for a federal loan but did not receive it until Sunday.
Shelley Luther should immediately be released from jail. Locking her up is a misguided abuse of power, especially considering Dallas County released real criminals to “protect them from COVID-19.”
Release her now so she can return to her family. pic.twitter.com/67KrhQBEyf
— Attorney General Ken Paxton (@KenPaxtonTX) May 6, 2020
Judge Moye said during Tuesday’s hearing that he would consider levying a fine instead of jail time if Luther would apologise and not reopen until she was allowed to do so. Luther refused.
“Feeding my kids is not selfish,” she told Moye. “If you think the law is more important than kids getting fed, then please go ahead with your decision, but I am not going to shut the salon.”
Moye wrote in his judgment of contempt: “The defiance of the court’s order was open, flagrant and intentional.” He noted that despite being given the opportunity to apologise, Luther has “expressed no contrition, remorse or regret” for her actions.
Al Jazeera and news agencies