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Downtown nightspot sues St. Louis to stop shutdown over alleged mask, social distancing violations

Downtown nightspot sues St. Louis to stop shutdown over alleged mask, social distancing violations

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ST. LOUIS — A downtown nightspot co-owned by a candidate in next year’s mayoral election has gone to court to fight a closure order issued for alleged violations of mask and social distancing rules to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Reign Restaurant, whose main owner is mayoral candidate Dana Kelly, is seeking a temporary restraining order to end the city-imposed shutdown, which began Wednesday and is set to expire Oct. 23.

The restaurant, in the Washington Avenue entertainment district, asserted in its suit that the city’s formal and informal guidelines “have squarely left the onus on face coverings to individual persons, not businesses” except for when customers enter and exit.

Reign also alleged that it was targeted by the city because Kelly has declared her intention to run against Mayor Lyda Krewson next year. Krewson is listed as a defendant in the suit along with the acting city health director, Dr. Fredrick Echols.

In response, city lawyers in a filing Friday said residents and the general public “will be at great risk if (Reign) … is permitted to reopen its doors without the proper training suggested and required by Dr. Echols.”

Deputy City Counselor Robert Dierker in an interview called the claim of political targeting “absurd” and “a fanciful allegation.”

He also denied Reign attorney Jonathan Lerman’s statement in an interview that the shutdown order resulted from “institutional racism” affecting Kelly and the other owners, all of whom Lerman said are African American.

The city in its response referred to photos and videos taken between Sept. 5 and Oct. 9 “capturing large groups of patrons and staff inside Reign at a bar and dancefloor without facemasks and not social distancing.”

The city also cited videos taken in August before a previous city-imposed temporary closure of Reign.

Reign’s suit said “a significant number of other bars and restaurants within the city” also have had patrons that appear to have violated the mask and social distancing orders but didn’t face “the same scrutiny” and closure orders.

The suit also says the city’s rules are unconstitutionally vague “because they fail to clearly distinguish between suggested conduct and mandatory conduct” by business owners.

Circuit Judge Joan Moriarty has set a hearing for Monday.

Reign also had sued the city over the earlier COVID-related closure of Reign but dropped that case after the city allowed it to reopen at the end of August following training given to restaurant employees by the health department.

The latest order was issued Oct. 9 and received Wednesday, Lerman said. The city building commissioner’s office on Wednesday also issued a condemnation order based on the health order, Dierker said. Lerman said he also is challenging that in court.

Kelly ran unsuccessfully in the August 2018 Democratic primary for St. Louis license collector, losing to incumbent Mavis Thompson.

In late July, she registered with the Missouri Ethics Commission a campaign committee to support a campaign for mayor next March.

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