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Despite repeat complaints, some businesses avoid formal COVID-19 enforcement

A review of state and local records identified businesses that continue to receive public complaints, yet have not faced CMPD citations or arrests.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — From vape and tobacco shops to parks, people have filed more than 2,500 complaints about public gatherings and stay at home violations in Charlotte during the span of the local order. 

Even so, police have only taken criminal action against 18 people, a dozen of them at one location, and a WCNC Charlotte investigation found despite repeat complaints, some businesses continue to avoid enforcement.

Vape shops repeatedly receiving complaints

Public records show no location in the city has received more complaints than Matthews Tobacco and Vape on Monroe Road. 

City records show 31 complaints since late March, seven of them over two hours Saturday. When visited Wednesday morning, the business was closed and no one answered the phone.

It's one of a handful of tobacco and vape shops we found with repeat complaints, but no arrests or citations from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

"How does CMPD justify enforcing this order against some, but not everyone," we asked Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Deputy Chief Jeff Estes.

"I don't think CMPD justifies anything," he responded. "It's an education component first. If we have a vape shop that's open, we go, we educate them, and if necessary, later give them a warning or issue a citation, which we have done."

CMPD records show enforcement actions against 18 people in all. Among those, citation records show police cited two people at other vape and tobacco stores earlier this month.

Protesters sue City of Charlotte after arrests

As Mecklenburg County's health director urged compliance with the county's orders, CMPD took a voluntary cooperation approach, only citing or arresting people as a last resort after education and dialogue failed. Police have said from the beginning, they would rely on complaints.

Complaints brought them to A Preferred Women's Health Center of Charlotte earlier in April. There, they cited a dozen protestors for a violation of mass gatherings and arrested eight of them for what they called a refusal to comply. 

CMPD's actions that day have led to a lawsuit against the City of Charlotte filed by David Benham, Cities4Life and Love Life. Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot, who represents the plaintiffs, said the city's enforcement efforts were not about health and safety.

RELATED: 8 people arrested after mass gathering of protesters outside Charlotte abortion clinic broken up

"I think it's an instance of targeting and targeting people because of what they're saying and because of their faith," Theriot said. "Absolutely it's unfair and it's unconstitutional, which is the biggest thing. This is targeting people because of their speech, because off their faith, because of what they're doing and the government can't do that."

What CMPD is doing

A review of North Carolina Department of Revenue records show multiple tobacco and vape shops, including Matthews Vape and Tobacco, denied applications to be essential businesses as of last week. The state noted in those denials, the businesses could only operate if social distancing takes place.

Mecklenburg County's order is more restrictive and prohibits those businesses to operate unless sales "can be conducted virtually." CMPD's Deputy Chief Estes said the competing state and local orders have complicated matters.

RELATED: Mecklenburg County allows some businesses to reopen

"We had to educate them and so, that's where you get multiple complaints at a store," he said generally about repeat violations. "They were operating, after having been closed by us, under the belief that the state DOR letter allowed them to do so. In many cases, we had to go back out and educate them."

Certain parts of Charlotte have more complaints than others

Charlotte 311 complaint records show more than 100 public gathering and stay at home violation complaints in these zip codes: 

  • 28205 — 160 complaints
  • 28208 — 125 complaints
  • 28203 — 107 complaints

While people have filed more than 2,500 complaints, CMPD said the majority of reports do not involve an activity that violates an order or proclamation.


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