Nearly 150 people are facing prosecution for violating the state COVID-19 emergency stay-at-home order this spring in Maryland, according to a review by the News4 I-Team.
Gov. Larry Hogan’s March emergency declaration made it a crime punishable by up to a year in prison for individuals to make nonessential travel or congregate in large groups.
According to the I-Team review, 112 prosecutions for violations of the order are filed in Prince George’s County court. The I-Team found those cases include alleged drunken drivers who were charged both with DUI and with violating the governor’s restriction on nonessential travel.
Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy said the emergency order violation was added when police found impaired drivers who were not traveling to workplaces or essential shopping trips.
“We screen every case and where appropriate we’ll charge for violation of emergency order,” Braveboy said.
The cases reviewed by the I-Team include a driver who allegedly pulled his car to the side of Interstate 95 near Beltsville during rush hour in late April, then stood in one of the traffic lanes, triggering a series of 911 calls from other drivers.
In another case, a driver pulled over for operating under the influence, allegedly told state troopers he had consumed multiple shots of liquor and consumed a beer while hanging out a friend’s house before driving on the highway after midnight in mid-April.
The I-Team also found four prosecutions for violations of the state’s emergency order in Anne Arundel County. In two of the cases, people were charged with carrying drug paraphernalia during a traffic stop after hours outside a hotel along Riva Road. The police report said one of the two claimed to the officers to have the coronavirus, then coughed in the face of one of the officers.
Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess said the county received more than 70 complaints of violations in April but resolved most without arrest.
“There wasn’t an interest in charging people, there was an interest in getting people to comply,” Leitess said.
Maryland State Police told the I-Team they also sought out “voluntary compliance” before recommending or issuing criminal citations against people for violating the emergency order.
In a Cecil County case, prosecutors said the owner of a dockside bar in Port Deposit was charged with violating the emergency order after disregarding a state police warning about crowding outside the restaurant. In April, the Cecil County state’s attorney charged the owner of Lee’s Landing Dock Bar for allegedly allowing a crowd of 70 to gather outside the building.
The charge was dismissed Monday. A spokesman for the restaurant said they briefly closed, then reconfigured to allow social distancing, provide food service outdoors and prevent exceeding capacity limits.
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.