MARTINSVILLE, VA – An article published on October 14 by the Bill Wyatt of the Martinsville Bulletin which claimed the police department raided a local restaurant due to COVID-19 violations is fake news, police say.
“This is untrue. To put it simply, the Martinsville Police Department did not participate in a raid on a local restaurant nor did one even occur,” the Martinsville Police Department said in a press release.
The incident happened at about 9:45 p.m. on October 9th when a visit to El Norteño Mexican Restaurant was made by the local Virginia Department of Health Environmental Manager to check on concerns that had been reported to health officials.
Police say after leaving the restaurant, the environmental manager met officers outside, who were patrolling the area due to previous loitering problems in the shopping center parking lots.
“Our restaurant was never closed. Yes, the bar area was was closed temporary, but that was our decision. No one made us do it. The false information has our customers assuming we are closed or got shut down because of something we did wrong,” stated El Norteño owner Jessica Gonzalez.
Police say they did not enter the restaurant to inform anyone they needed to leave.
However, one officer did enter the restaurant and asked a manager if they were okay. Upon hearing that they were, the officer left the restaurant, according to police.
No arrests were made and no confrontations occurred.
“The paper exaggerated. We stood by and told people they could not take out alcohol when they left. There were no ABC agents present and I would not call a couple of officers who were already working in regular uniforms a show of force,” the police department said in a Facebook Messenger response.
Nancy Bell, the public information officer for the West Piedmont Department of Health agrees with police.
“There was no shut down and there was no raid. I don’t know how you define a raid, but I wouldn’t consider a conversation with management as a raid,” she said.
The newspaper article's companying photo was of the police department's Mobile Command Center parked in the vicinity of the restaurant, which it called “intimidating.”
“We’ve never really considered our 90s model Winnebago as intimidating, but it has been in the parking lot for well over two weeks at the request of a retail store in the same shopping center who has been having an issue with shoplifting,” the release said.
Gonzalez says media outlets should ensure information they share is accurate, as it can have negative consequences on those it's reported on.
“Business has dropped that includes sit down and to-go orders. Not to mention the negative outlook. People call everyday to ask if we are now open,” she added.