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Fire marshal allegedly threatens restaurant manager with jail after he refused to order police to leave outdoor eating area


'I believe it's a little much'

Photo by Giles Clarke/Getty Images

The president of a Houston restaurant said the fire marshal threatened his general manager with jail after he refused to order police to leave an outdoor area adjacent to the restaurant where officers were eating, KTRK-TV reported, noting the dust-up was over coronavirus social distancing rules.

What's the background?

Buffalo Grille has been feeding first responders for free since April 1 and will continue doing so through Saturday due to an anonymous donation it received.

Prior to the donation Buffalo Grille has been giving first responders a 50% discount for years, KPRC-TV reported.

Well, on Monday a Houston firefighter came to the restaurant to get a free meal and told the general manager that a group of Houston police officers eating outside at a table needed to leave right away, KPRC said.

The general manager didn't feel comfortable telling the officers to leave, so the fire department member asked the officers to leave instead, restaurant president John McAleer told KTRK.

"About 15 minutes later, another set of police officers were there, and the fire marshal came and asked them to leave and wrote us a notice of violation, I believe is what it's called," McAleer added to KTRK. "We were surprised about it, but it is what it is. If we are in violation of it, we'll take the notice."

'It's a little much'

But that ain't all, apparently.

McAleer also told KTRK the fire marshal threatened the Buffalo Grille general manager with jail if it happened again.

"My manager's understanding is that if this does happen again that he will go to jail," McAleer told the station. "This is the understanding that he had from the fire marshal."

Of the jail threat, McAleer added to KTRK: "I believe it's a little much. I understand rules are rules ... just like every restaurant in the city of Houston ... we have tried our best to do everything we can to stay within what seems to be kind of ... fluctuating guidelines."

He added to the station that his general manager also was told that police officers can't even eat in their patrol cars and that the whole thing "has put a little bit of a scare into him."

TheBlaze on Tuesday asked the Houston Fire Department to comment on McAleer's allegation that the fire marshal threatened his general manager with jail. The fire department didn't specifically address the question but offered the following statement from Fire Chief Sam Peña:

Both departments (HFD and HPD) are working diligently to enforce the spirit of the County's Stay-Home order. With every one of the hundreds of complaint responses, the primary goal for HFD's Occupancy Task Force has been to achieve voluntary compliance with the order through information and education. We have been extremely successful in achieving this goal as was the case in this instance. Contrary to reports, the Buffalo Grille was not cited by the HFD Occupancy Task Force and there was no fees assessed. The complaint was resolved via notice of violation as required by the County's Order. I want to thank the management of Buffalo Grille for helping us resolve this issue and thank the officers of both the Houston Police and Fire department's for working to do the right thing.

Buffalo Grille has maintained a great relationship with members of Public Safety and we appreciate their generosity.

What did police have to say?

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told KTRK that he spoke to Peña about the incident and that he'll make sure to find out who the officers were and remind them that they have to follow social distancing rules, too.

'We don't want to police any of our first responders'

McAleer told KTRK that the incident has left Buffalo Grille with the uncomfortable responsibility to patrol first responders' behavior, noting again the jail time threat "if we don't police the police and the customers even if they're not on our premises."

"That's not a position we want to be in," he added to the station. "We don't want to police any of our first responders. All we want to do is thank them and do what we can for them, do our little part."

(H/T: Blue Lives Matter)

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