Businesses can legally refuse customers who aren’t wearing face masks — but there are some exceptions

A Ceres, California woman is upset at her gym after she says she was kicked out for refusing to wear a mask.

Sara Fontana is a member of InShape Health Clubs, a California chain of gyms and fitness centers. During a recent visit, she said she was confronted by management who told her state law required her to wear a mask.

Fontana complained, saying she was exempt from the mask mandate because she has asthma, a recognized medical condition. Despite this, she said she was asked to leave.

The legal confusion over state-imposed mask mandates has generated a significant amount of public confusion, with some people claiming the government is “infringing” on their rights by forcing them to wear a mask in the middle of an international health crisis.

One group calling itself the “Freedom to Breath Agency” even started selling cards online that claimed the bearer is entitled to an exemption from mask mandates because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, prompting the Federal Trade Commission to issue a rare statement saying the cards were fake and the information printed on them misleading and false.

“Seen cards that say you don’t have to wear a mask because of a disability?” the FTC’s warning says. “They have the Department of Justice…seal, but they’re not from the federal government. DOJ has said not to rely on the information in the cards.”

Information from the Centers for Disease Control says wearing a cloth or other type of mask is shown to be effective in combatting the novel coronavirus COVID-19 because they “reduce the spray of droplets when worn [correctly] over the nose and mouth.”

But the CDC also says cloth face coverings shouldn’t be worn by a certain group of people, including children who are under the age of two years old or anyone who has a legitimate medical condition where using a cloth mask would be difficult.

Following CDC guidance and similar advice from local health officials, California adopted those exemptions and others when it mandated the wearing of cloth masks in public and indoor businesses last month.

So why was Fontana kicked out of her local gym?

Sacramento legal expert Mark Reichel said a business can legally ask someone to leave for not following the state mask mandate if a person can’t back up their claim of a medical exemption with some kind of proof.

“The burden is on [the customer] to prove their exemption is legitimate and back it up with medical paperwork,” Mark told CBS13 News.

If a business makes other accommodations for a customer who claims they can’t wear a mask, the customer can be asked to leave if they don’t accept that offer.

In this case, InShape Health Clubs is likely in the clear because it informed guests last month that they wouldn’t be allowed to access a gym without a face covering, and it provides an avenue for members to contact their local gym’s manager or send an email to InShape’s corporate office to request an accommodation because of a disability.

In a statement to CBS13 News, InShape said it extended the same offer to Fontana, but she refused.

“We offered [Fontana], as we do with all members, an opportunity to work with us on finding an accommodation to keep her safe and all members around her safe,” InShape Health Clubs CEO Francesca Schuler said in a statement to CBS13 News. “But she chose to not take advantage of it which then could place other members in the club at risk.”

InShape told the news outlet it has chosen not to cancel Fontana’s membership and wants to work with her in the future toward a solution that will keep her and other guests safe.

Click or tap here to read the full story from CBS13 News

Family of murdered librarian Amber Clark sues Sacramento police, prosecutor for gun records

The family of a Sacramento woman who was gunned down while sitting in her car outside a city library two years ago has filed a lawsuit against the Sacramento Police Department and Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office.

The lawsuit, filed in state court earlier this week, comes after the relatives of librarian Amber Clark sent numerous requests to law enforcement and the county district attorney’s office seeking records related to the gun used in the murder.

In December 2018, police arrested Ronald Seay in connection with Clark’s murder. Investigators allege Seay shot Clark more 11 times at close range, striking her in the face and head.

Police acknowledged Seay had a history of mental health issues, was known to harass library patrons and had several law enforcement encounters in California and Missouri over the years.

Despite this, Seay was able to legally purchase the gun allegedly connected to Clark’s murder in Missouri, authorities said.

Since the murder, Clark’s family has tried on numerous occasions to get records related to the purchase of the gun and other documents in the case.

“The information we’re seeking can help explain how Amber’s shooter was able to access a gun despite a well-documented history of mental illness involving threats of violence, contact with law enforcement, and aggressive behavior,” Amber Clark’s spouse Kelly Clark said in a statement. “Making this information available won’t bring Amber back, but by potentially exposing gaps in the system, it may help prevent someone else from going through what our family has.”

Both the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office and the Sacramento Police Department have refused to turn over documents in the case, citing exemptions in California’s Public Records Act that allow withholding of investigatory records during ongoing criminal cases. In one instance, the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office said federal law prevented the disclosure of certain firearms-related records that were being sought for disclosure.

But attorneys representing the Clark family say the records they’re seeking aren’t covered by the exemptions and should be released to the family, in part because an amendment to California’s constitution allows victims to obtain certain information about crimes.

Sacramento legal expert Mark Reichel told CBS13 News the lawsuit filed in state court could put the state’s victim’s bill of rights against federal exemptions.

“I don’t know what interest the federal government would have to override a Californian constitutional amendment, giving the victims the right to know this type of information,” Mark said, adding that the case was unusual because the county prosecutor’s office typically tries to appear “very victim-friendly.”

As of Wednesday, the Sacramento Police Department and Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office had not formally responded to the lawsuit.

Seay is currently awaiting trial in the case.

Click here to read the full story from CBS13 News

Guilty plea expected in case of Golden State Killer, East Area Rapist suspect Joseph DeAngelo

Joseph DeAngelo, the man arrested in 2018 on suspicion of a string of kidnappings, rapes and murders stemming from his time as a police officer in the 1970s and 1980s, is expected to formally enter a guilty plea to some of those charges during a court hearing on Monday.

But the hearing won’t happen in a typical courtroom. Instead, prosecutors have announced the hearing will take place inside a large ballroom at the California State University’s Sacramento campus.

Legal experts speculate the unusual move was made to accommodate more than 100 families and friends of the Golden State Killer and East Area Rapist’s victims, some of whom are expected to make impact statements during the hearing.

California criminal defense attorney and legal expert Mark Reichel told CBS13 News the decision to hold the hearing at CSU Sacramento makes sense because “this is a highly unusual case, probably the biggest case in California history.”

Under normal circumstances, a judge would allow a certain number of victims, members of the public and news reporters into the courtroom to observe a hearing, then provide an overflow space for anyone else who wanted to attend.

Courts have been forced to modify their operating procedures in the wake of the global health crisis brought on by the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

“I think it is driven by the [coronavirus] epidemic,” Reichel said in another interview with FOX40 News. “Normally, they would allow a certain amount of people in the courtroom.”

To ensure those who want to attend in person can, the ballroom at CSU Sacramento was selected so that court officials could accommodate the family and friends while attempting to adhere to social distancing rules and other guidelines that have been put in place in public spaces throughout California.

No matter where the hearing takes place, Mark hopes a guilty plea will spare victims the experience of having to go through a lengthy trial.

“Now we have a guilty plea, I think that’s what’s going to happen. We have a guilty plea. We have a guilty finding,” Mark said. “No more trial. No more guessing. No more speculation. No more fighting. That type of finality is probably good for everyone.”

What is qualified immunity, and why does it make prosecuting police officers hard?

As the debate over how to achieve police reform continues in the United States following the in-custody death of Minneapolis man George Floyd, a little-known legal defense known as qualified immunity has come to light, adding another element to an already-vibrant national dialogue.

Qualified immunity is a strong civil defense for law enforcement officers and other government agents that protects them from civil lawsuits and other types of litigation for a decision that officer or agent made through their position or job.

While there are some exceptions, including for gross misconduct, qualified immunity is generally a broad defense that for years has successfully prevented officers and agents from being sued because something happened in connection with their job.

The Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC), a government agency within the federal U.S. Department of Homeland Security, says the rationale behind qualified immunity “permits officers to perform their duties without fear of constantly defending themselves against insubstantial claims for damages” while allowing members of the public to “recover damages when a reasonable officer would know that the officer unreasonably violated a plaintiff’s constitutional or federal civil rights.”

But proving that violation of a person’s civil rights has proven to be exceptionally hard in court as prior lawsuits have shown.

Take the case of Shaniz West, an Idaho woman who sued after allowing officers to enter her home so they could arrest her ex-boyfriend. Instead of just walking into the home and taking her ex-boyfriend into custody, police lobbed tear gas canisters through the home’s window and other points of entry.

Despite Shaniz giving officers the keys to her home, they never tried it. And when they eventually did make entry, they realized the ex-boyfriend, who was wanted on firearms charges, wasn’t inside. They destroyed Shaniz’s property, coating the inside of her home’s walls with toxic residue left over from the tear gas and making her home inhabitable.

Shaniz sued the police chief, a police sergeant and the town of Caldwell, Idaho in what became known as West v. Winfield. The lawsuit sought to make Shaniz whole by forcing the town to pay for the damage done to her home.

But the town and the officers said they weren’t responsible for the damage because, even though Shaniz had given them the keys to her home and invited them in, their force was justifiable and they were protected through qualified immunity.

“If you sue (to hold an officer accountable in civil court,) you have to prove that there’s a case, on point, in your jurisdiction of an appellate court that’s supervising it all — not just a trial court decision, but a higher-level appellate court that says those exact facts are illegal to do to someone,” Sacramento criminal defense attorney told ABC10 during a recent interview.

Shaniz appealed to the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but appellate judges there said there wasn’t any case law to support her claim. She further appealed to the Supreme Court, where her case was one of several that the Supreme Court justices declined to hear.

With the Supreme Court unwilling to hear those cases, it’s now up to Congress or state lawmakers to limit the applicability of qualified immunity in cases involving police officers and other public officials.

At least one state has done just that: On Friday, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a landmark police reform bill that, among other things, made police officers personally liable for up to $25,000 in damages if they are found to have violated civil rights during encounters with the public.

The new law also says officers could be subject to criminal liability if they do not follow a strict set of rules regarding how they use agency-issued body cameras. Under the law, police officers in Colorado must always keep body cameras on, unless they need to avoid recording personal information that is not related to a case or if there is “a long break in the incident (or) in administrative, tactical and management decisions.”

In the House of Representatives, a bi-partisan bill was recently introduced called the “Ending Qualified Immunity Act” that would curb the use of that defense at a federal level — something that could have major implications across the country.

The bill, introduced by Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Justin Amash of Michigan, would amend U.S. Code 42, Section 1983 to “explicitly state that the qualified immunity doctrine…does NOT provide police officers (who) brutalize or otherwise violate civil rights with defense or immunity from civil liability for their actions,” according to a press release.

“Qualified immunity shields police from accountability, impedes true justice, and undermines the constitutional rights of every person in this country,” Rep. Pressley said in a statement. “It’s past time to end qualified immunity.”

Tanya Faison, a founding member of Black Lives Matter Sacramento, agrees.

“There should be clear cut and dry instructions, rules, rights, everything should be very clear cut and dry,” Faison told ABC10 in an interview. “Not subjective. Not easily manipulated.”

Click or tap here to read the full story from ABC10 Sacramento

San Francisco police will stop posting mugshots on social media under revised policy

The San Francisco Police Department says it will end the practice of posting mugshots for criminal suspects on social media and won’t automatically distribute those mugshots to members of the news media, reversing a years-long practice that has become commonplace in law enforcement agencies throughout the country and across the nation.

The decision was made in consultation with the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office who argued that the practice of posting mugshots online had the potential to taint criminal trials and follow accused individuals long after any debt to society is paid.

“Most who get arrested are not convicted of a crime,” Mano Raju with the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office told the Davis Vanguard. “And many of those who are convicted can eventually have those convictions expunged. But, the online image is forever and hinders that person from gaining meaningful employment or even housing.”

“At a time when the nation has renewed its focus on rethinking the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction, having seen the devastation wrought on communities from decades of tough-on-crime policy, this policy takes a step in the right direction,” Raju said.

Raju asked for the police department to expand on its policy by considering whether posting a mugshot of a young suspect is warranted if the crime is minor.

“If a 19 year-old San Franciscan is convicted for a minor non-violent crime, do we want their mugshot to be easily searchable for the rest of their life? I don’t think so,” Raju said. “San Francisco is a city that believes in second chances. The exception in the policy should not become the rule.”

Under the new policy, the police department will not automatically distribute mugshots of suspects to members of the news media, though nothing prevents reporters from asking for and receiving the mugshots separately.

The move comes as news organizations across the country weigh the merits of posting mugshots in photo galleries and news stories online, especially for minor alleged offenses where the harm of the crime is outweighed by the potential implications of search engines like Google indexing news stories that can be found by prospective employers, landlords and others.

Earlier this year, an editor at a Cincinnati television station announced his outlet would stop posting mugshots online, except in limited circumstances where there was a clear nexus to public safety.

WCPO-TV digital content producer Mike Canan wrote that many journalists justify the use of mugshots because they have the ability to go viral and increase engagement, especially if the photograph looks awkward or funny. But that alone, he said, doesn’t rise to the level of being newsworthy or informative.

“Somewhere in that process, the journalist forgets that this is a real person, not simply the butt of a joke,” Canan wrote. “In addition, many crimes we cover happen in low-income communities. These crimes, often borne out of poverty, disproportionately involve African Americans. Putting mug shots of those arrested online and on TV has the potential to reinforce racial stereotypes.”

Canan said he was limiting the use of mugshots to cases where a person may be suspected of a serious crime and still on the loose, or where police believe there may be more than one suspect connected to a serious crime and they need the public’s help locating them. Another exception, Canan said, might be if a person’s name is so general that he or she is likely to be confused with other members of the public who have not been accused of crimes.

Canan is not alone in his decision: It was preceded by a similar policy at the Napa Valley Register newspaper and followed later this year by the Gannett Corporation who started removing mugshot photo galleries from websites associated with GateHouse newspapers (Gannett and GateHouse merged in November 2019).

In a statement, a Gannett executive said mugshot photo galleries had the potential to reinforce negative and false racial stereotypes and unfairly disadvantage photo subjects in other ways. Gannett said it would continue to publish mugshots in news articles when it was appropriate to do so.

Mark Reichel, a criminal defense attorney based in Sacramento, said policies that limit the publication of mugshots help ensure a fair process for those accused of crimes because suspects have an immediate presumption of innocence.

“Mugshots can be tremendously detrimental to constitutional rights for all Americans,” Mark said. “The very first reaction by most people when informed of something that is important to them (like being a juror or a witness in a criminal case), that they don’t know much about, is to log directly on to the internet.”

Even if a person is acquitted of a crime, a mugshot can follow them around on a news story that is never erased from the web.

“Mugshots are graphic, and that is a ‘bell that can’t be unrung,'” Mark said. “Prejudice begins at that very first moment. As well, persons who are completely innocent will still have their image — something that they cannot change — forever associated with being a criminal.”

(Header photo by Tomás Del Coro, Flickr Creative Commons)

Golden State Killer suspect Joseph DeAngelo expected to plead guilty

The man suspected of carrying out a string of burglaries, rapes and murders in the 1970s and 1980s is expected to enter a guilty plea at a court hearing later this month.

That guilty plea will likely spare Joseph DeAngelo from a death sentence and preserve millions of taxpayer dollars that would have been spent on a lengthy criminal trial, according to legal experts.

DeAngelo, a former police officer from Northern California, was arrested in 2018 after DNA submitted to a genealogy website reportedly match some of DeAngelo’s distant relatives. The DNA allegedly proved a link between DeAngelo and an unknown man whom police called the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker.

Prosecutors charged DeAngelo with 13 counts of kidnapping and 13 counts of murder. Though he is suspected of other crimes associated with the East Area Rapist and Original Night Stalker cases, statutes of limitations in California law prevented prosecutors from seeking charges for those alleged crimes.

Rumors of a possible plea deal began swirling in early March after attorneys representing the man said they were trying to “resolve” the case.

A footnote in a supplemental court filing seeking the dismissal of certain charges said DeAngelo had offered to plead guilty to other charges in exchange for a lifetime sentence.

Court hearings were delayed due to the ongoing COVID-19 global health crisis, but as proceedings started up again, the Sacramento Bee published a report on Monday saying attorneys had been contacting victims with information about a plea deal.

The Bee’s report said the deal is still in the works and had not been finalized, and that any plea deal could collapse due to DeAngelo’s erratic nature.

Sacramento criminal defense attorney Mark Reichel told CBS13 News a plea deal would save California taxpayers a considerable amount of money and spare victims and their families from what was sure to be a lengthy trial.

“Many times, this was referred to as what was going to be the biggest trial in the history of California,” Reichel said, adding that the costs associated with litigation were expected to be around $50 million.

DeAngelo’s plea could be entered as early as June 29, which would coincide with his next court appearance.

Sacramento County Judge James Arguelles to fill Eastern District vacancy

A Sacramento County Superior Court judge has been appointed by President Donald Trump to fill a vacancy in the federal Eastern District of California.

Judge James Arguelles is the second Trump nominee within the federal judicial district. The pick comes more than a month after the president appointed Fresno attorney Dirk Paloutzian to the Eastern District’s Fresno court, which has been burdened with criminal and civil case activity due to court vacancies there.

Prior to his term as a judge in Sacramento County, Arguelles worked as a partner at the Sacramento firm Stevens, O’Connell & Jacobs. He was also an Assistant U.S. Attorney  in the Eastern District prior to entering private practice.

Speaking to the trade publication Law.com, Sacramento criminal defense attorney Mark Reichel called Arguelles’ appointment a smart pick.

“He is a very smart lawyer, is very well-rounded as a person and has relatively broad experience,” Mark said. “He is personable and kind to litigants and their lawyers, works hard. Judge Arguelles might turn out to be all that is right with lifetime appointments.”

U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott of the Eastern District of California said any presidential administration would be “hard-pressed to find someone as well-qualified as Jim Arguelles for a district court position.”

Click here to read the full story on Law.com