Marlena Pavlos-Hackney is a Michigan business owner who was arrested on March 19 for defying a court order to shut down her restaurant.
The state government suspended Pavlos-Hackney’s food establishment license in January 2021 after investigators said she failed to obey safety regulations put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic. According to the suspension order, Pavlos-Hackney continued to offer indoor dining services and did not enforce mask requirements or social distancing measures at her restaurant, Marlena’s Bistro & Pizzeria.
Pavlos-Hackney has countered that she has a constitutional right to operate her business as she pleases, WOOD-TV reported. She also argued on Facebook days before her arrest that the judge who ordered the bench warrant, Judge Wanda Stokes, had abused her power.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Health Officials Said a Patient Tested Positive for COVID-19 After Visiting Marlena’s Bistro & Pizzeria
The Allegan County Health Department sent Pavlos-Hackney a warning on December 2, 2020, after learning that Pavlos-Hackney had kept her dining room open in violation of state regulations. The department ordered Pavlos-Hackney to close operations for 72 hours and to “comply with all applicable public health orders.”
But she refused to do so and then ignored a “cease and desist” order that was issued on December 30. In response, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development suspended her food establishment license on January 20, 2021, citing an “imminent threat to the public health.” You can read the suspension order here.
Judge Wanda Stokes of the 30th Judicial Circuit Court approved a bench warrant for Pavlos-Hackney’s arrest on March 4, the Holland Sentinel reported. The warrant was issued one day after the Allegan County Health Department determined that Marlena’s Bistro & Pizzeria customers may have been exposed to COVID-19. According to health officials, a person who had visited the restaurant on February 27 tested positive for the virus 48 hours later.
The Holland Sentinel published portions of Stokes’ explanation for issuing the bench warrant. “It’s just not clear to me, under the circumstances that we find ourselves in this country, with respect to this virus that is killing people, that we still have individuals that are just intentionally not following the laws, especially when to comes to our food establishments,” Stokes said. “I find it compelling and troubling that, since the time this [food] license has been suspended, we actually have an individual who has tested positive. I understand it’s not possible to say definitively this person contracted the virus at the establishment, but at that time, the establishment should not have been operating.”
2. Pavlos-Hackney Described the Situation as ‘Tyrannical’ & Told Radio Host Glenn Beck She Wouldn’t be ‘Intimidated’ by the Government
Pavlos-Hackney explained on her business Facebook page that the Michigan State Police had given her until March 18 to surrender to authorities. But she wrote that she had no intention of complying. “Under no circumstances will I choose to give up my freedom and walk myself into a tyrannical situation,” Pavlos-Hackney wrote.
She added that it had been explained to her that she wouldn’t be able to post bond until she agreed to shut down her restaurant. “I would be held in jail until I agreed to do whatever the judge says, with no other way of being released. That sounds reminiscent of how political prisoners were treated in the Soviet Union under Stalin!”
She discussed her situation with conservative radio host Glenn Beck on March 18. That interview can be heard here or on Beck’s Facebook page. Pavlos-Hackney told Beck she refused to be intimated by government forces. She said she believed Michigan authorities had “overstepped” and “abused” their power by forcing businesses to abide by certain regulations.
Pavlos-Hackney explained she had followed the rules at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. She said she shut down her restaurant for about three months. But she said she and other business owners needed their jobs to survive and that she believed the government couldn’t mandate how she chooses to run her business. Pavlos-Hackney also expressed frustration that large corporations like Target were allowed to reopen while small businesses like hers were restricted.
3. Pavlos-Hackney Was an Immigrant From Poland & Launched Her Business in 2000
During the interview with Glenn Beck, Pavlos-Hackney compared the coronavirus regulations to her early experiences growing up in communist Poland. Her native country was controlled by the Soviet Union when she was a teenager.
Pavlos-Hackney explained to Beck that she escaped the communist regime in 1983. She left Poland and traveled to Greece, where she lived in a refugee camp. Pavlos-Hackney said after applying, she was able to move to the United States in 1988. She became a citizen in 1992.
Pavlos-Hackney became a business owner in August 2000, according to state business records. She registered “Zante Inc” with the state of Michigan and originally named her business “The Salad Bowl Restaurant.” Records show she changed the name to “Marlena’s Bistro & Pizzeria” in 2013.
Pavlos-Hackney does not appear to have any official business partners. She is listed as the company’s president, treasurer, secretary and director on the state website.
4. Pavlos-Hackney Was Arrested & the Judge Ordered Her Detained Until She Could Prove She Had Closed the Restaurant
Pavlos-Hackney was arrested on March 19 around 5:54 a.m. during a traffic stop, according to the Michigan Attorney General’s office. Inmate records on the Ingham County Sheriff’s Office website show Pavlos-Hackney was initially denied bond and her release date was listed for June 4.
Judge Rosemarie Aquilina oversaw the arraignment hearing on March 19. As WOOD-TV reported, the judge told Pavlos-Hackney she would remain locked up until she closed her restaurant and that the process would repeat if she reopened her business.
“Should the restaurant open up again, there will be another bench warrant issued immediately, another pickup order, 93 days (in jail) and $7,500 (in fines),” Aquilina said according to the TV outlet. “I don’t know how long you want to do this, ma’am, but we can keep doing it all year long. You must abide by the law.”
Supporters of Pavlos-Hackney boarded up the windows of Marlena’s Bistro & Pizzeria on March 19, WWMT-TV reported, in an effort to get her freed from jail. Pavlos-Hackney’s attorney also told WOOD-TV he was working to get his client released.
Hundreds of people protested outside of the restaurant on Saturday, March 20, to demand Pavlos-Hackney’s release. According to MLive, the crowd chanted “Free Marlena” and expressed skepticism about coronavirus statistics. A GoFundMe campaign launched on Pavlos-Hackney’s behalf has raised more than $238,000.
5. The Michigan Republican Party Criticized the State Attorney General’s Office for Arresting a Woman Who ‘Simply Wants to Work to Support Her Family’
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel explained the reasoning for Pavlos-Hackney’s restaurant in a news release on the department’s website. “This owner has continued to willfully violate the state’s food laws, public health orders and the order of the court – a dangerous act that may have exposed dozens of diners and employees to the virus following the discovery that one of Marlena’s customers tested positive for the virus within two days of eating there,” Nessel said. She added that the Pavlos-Hackney had refused “to comply with basic COVID-19 measures required by the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services.”
The Michigan Republican Party disagreed with Nessel’s assessment. The party issued a written statement criticizing officials for arresting Pavlos-Hackney and issued the moment to call for the state to investigate deaths at nursing homes amid the pandemic. Communications director Ted Goodman wrote, “Nessel is eager to spend taxpayer-funded resources going after small business owners trying to stave off bankruptcy but refuses to investigate the deaths of thousands of nursing home residents potentially caused by policies implemented by her political-ally Gretchen Whitmer. It’s a massive abuse of power and shows what her priorities are.”
State Representative Mary Whiteford, who represents the area where Pavlos-Hackney’s restaurant is located, added that “Marlena simply wants to work to support her family and the families of her employees. She reminds me of my dad, never wanting government handouts. Every one of her customers has chosen to eat in her restaurant. They refuse to let the government dictate their lives.”