A Lower Township police officer was insulted Saturday during a dispute with the owner of a miniature golf course and gift shop and his son, who were found to be operating in violation of the governor’s COVID-19 mandate.
Officers responded to the Sunset Beach Gift Shop at 502 Sunset Blvd. in Cape May Point after tips came in stating that the business and the mini golf course were operating against laws created during the pandemic, police said in a news release.
A call to the business was not immediately returned.
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An officer told the owner, whom police did not identify, that he was there based on the anonymous tips, but the owner said he believed his business could be open because he sold essential products as defined in the governor’s order.
The officer walked through the store to see whether the products met the order’s guidelines and contacted the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office to relay the complaint, police said. The officer was told the gift shop did not meet the requirements to stay open as a walk-in business but could be open for curbside services, and that the mini golf course could not stay open.
The officer told the owner and politely advised customers that the store would have to close, allowing them to complete their purchases before they left. Those on the golf course were allowed to finish their games before that was closed, according to the release.
The owner and his adult son, whom police also did not identify, “became very agitated and responded negatively to the officer, including insulting him in public, which led to a brief exchange of words outside of the business,” according to the release.
The officer told the son that if he did not calm down and stop interfering with his ability to communicate with his department he would be arrested for disorderly conduct, police said. No summons was issued.
“It was clear that the owners of the business were blaming their frustration with being unable to remain fully open on the officer and the situation became very contentious,” according to the release. “During this entire incident, the officer continued to explain to the owner and his son that this was not a decision made by him, he was simply enforcing the executive order and he understood their frustration.”
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Officials reviewed the officer’s body camera footage and “it was evident that he did everything he could to de-escalate the situation while carrying out his sworn duties,” according to the release.
“These are very trying times for everyone in this country, especially for law enforcement who are challenged in maintaining a very delicate balance between enforcing the state’s laws, doing their job to protect the communities they serve and going home safe every day to their families,” according to the release. “We also cannot forget that we are facing an unprecedented time with this virus and we must remain safe and smart on how we accomplish this so that none of us contract this virus and affect our friends and families. We understand that the business owner simply wants to provide for his family, workers and the community he lives in; but that does not justify insulting a police officer simply trying to honor his oath to enforce the law.”