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.”

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

Three officers charged with aiding and abetting murder in George Floyd case

Three former Minneapolis police officers who were present during the arrest of an unarmed black man have been charged in connection with his subsequent death.

The charges were announced at a press conference Wednesday by Hennepin County District Attorney Mark Freeman and Minnesota State Attorney General Keith Ellison.

Court records obtained by a local news station revealed Thomas Lane, 37; Tou Thao, 34 and Alexander Kueng, 26 were each charged with one count of unintentionally aiding and abetting murder and one count of intentionally aiding and abetting manslaughter.

The charges stem from last week’s arrest of George Floyd, a Minneapolis resident who was accused by a deli employee of attempting to make a purchase with counterfeit money.

One officer, 44-year-old Derek Chauvin, was captured on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck during the arrest. Throughout the video, Floyd could be heard telling the officers he was in pain and unable to breathe.

Floyd’s lifeless body was placed on an ambulance stretcher and removed from the scene of the arrest. Video of the incident, first posted to Twitter, sparked a national outcry and led to days of protests in major cities across the country.

Last Friday, Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and third-degree unintentional manslaughter. On Wednesday, prosecutors added a second-degree murder charge against the officer.

Earlier this week, defense attorney Mark Reichel told FOX40 News he anticipated charges against the other three officers captured on cellphone videos during Floyd’s arrest.

On Wednesday, Mark said the additional second-degree charge is a more-serious offense that could carry a lengthier prison sentence, adding that prosecutors may have more evidence proving Chauvin’s intent.

“Second-degree murder charge means [Chauvin] intended the killing at some point,” Mark told FOX40 News. “Second-degree murder in Minnesota means there was a use of force and he intended to cause bodily harm, serious bodily harm, and during it someone died.”

Mark said it was unlikely prosecutors would have prevailed in court with a third-degree murder charge because Minnesota law requires proof that a person killed more than one individual during the incident.

“Had the case stayed with the county attorney and stayed as third-degree murder, [the officer] likely would have won the case,” Mark said.

Click here to watch the full video on FOX40.com

Accomplice charges likely coming for other officers involved in George Floyd’s death

One week after an unarmed Minneapolis man died during a police encounter, community members and activists continue calling for charges against three officers who were connected to the incident.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is the only person so far to faces charges in connection with the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man whose arrest made international headlines following his death.

A bystander to the arrest captured cellphone video showing Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck during the arrest. Multiple times, Floyd could be heard telling Chauvin and other officers on scene that he was in pain and couldn’t breathe.

Floyd’s lifeless body was placed on a stretcher and taken away from the scene in an ambulance, the video shows. He was pronounced dead a short time later.

Chauvin was arrested last Friday and booked into jail on charges of manslaughter and third-degree murder. But three other officers at the scene — Thomas Lane, J.A. Kueng and Tou Thao —  have not been criminally charged in connection with Floyd’s death.

Sacramento criminal defense attorney Mark Reichel told FOX40 News on Tuesday he believes charges against the other three officers are forthcoming, and it’s simply a matter of time before prosecutors in Minnesota announce them.

“Once you’re aware a crime is being committed, if your presence is enough to prevent it from being stopped, you can be charged as an accomplice,” Mark said.

The three officers could be charged with accomplice liability — also known as aiding and abetting — for having reasonable knowledge that Chauvin was committing a crime but failing to stop it. Eyewitness video captured at the scene showed at least one officer repeatedly telling bystanders to stay out of the street while he was standing mere feet away from Chauvin and Floyd.

The video evidence is likely going to be key in charging the other three officers with accomplice liability in the future.

“It’s going to come down to, what did you see? What did you hear? What did you know?” Mark said. “It’s my understanding they’re looking at the facts right now. Some of those facts are, when were they aware there was no pulse? When were they aware those other officers are saying, roll him over…to the right side?”

In a separate but related legal action, state officials in Minnesota filed a civil rights complaint against the Minneapolis Police Department. That complaint opens the door for state investigators to comb through nearly a decade of police cases connected to the department to see if there are additional civil rights violations.