Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Police Will Accompany Health Inspectors

Inspectors need protection, city decides, after deaths threats and a physical altercation.

By - Nov 17th, 2020 06:04 pm
"Defend Your Vote" rally. Photo taken November 14th, 2020 by Ethan Duran.

“Defend Your Vote” rally. Photo taken November 14th, 2020 by Ethan Duran.

Following one inspector being pushed and death threats being sent to others, Milwaukee Police Department officers will now accompany Milwaukee Health Department inspectors on their site visits.

“To have our city health department employees receive death threats totally crosses the line,” said Mayor Tom Barrett during a press briefing Tuesday afternoon.

The threat came, via email, after inspectors attempted to get Serb Hall management to enforce the COVID-19 health order at the event venue on Saturday. The venue was hosting a “Defend Your Vote” rally in support of President Donald Trump.

Interim Health Commissioner Marlaina Jackson said her office received a complaint about the then-proposed event on Friday and briefed Serb Hall on the safety protocols.

When inspectors, who always operate in pairs, arrived on Saturday during the event they noticed a number of violations. Serb Hall general manager Nicholas Alioto interrupted the event and asked for compliance. The microphone was grabbed from his hands by an attendee and a scuffle ensued.

“As the inspectors attempted to document the infractions they were pushed and harassed,” said Jackson. Citations are pending.

She said the department has faced allegations that its enforcement is politically motivated. “Absolutely not true,” she said. “We are working hard to protect public health.”

Jackson said the enforcement is complaint-based and the ordinance allows for businesses to be cited. A recent update to the health order requires those gathering to remain seated when at events, whether outdoor or indoor, except upon arrival or departure. Individuals must also wear masks except when eating or drinking.

Alioto had asked the patrons to sit, but conservative talk radio host Vicki McKenna, a speaker at the event, encouraged them to do the exact opposite.

Jackson said the Serb Hall incident wasn’t the first time inspectors have faced abuse.

“Throughout this process our inspectors have been verbally abused,” she said. “They have definitely had to have some difficult conversations and those conversations have not been happy.”

Deputy commissioner Claire Evers said last Thursday that the inspection staff had recently been expanded with reassigned health department employees receiving training. Jackson said they’re also now going out after 10 p.m.

“As of two weeks ago when we started to beef up our enforcement efforts, our staff will go out as late as they need to,” said Jackson.

How will the police department support the inspectors? “There is no information we are going to share publicly,” said Barrett spokesperson Jodie Tabak.

Barrett said the city’s health order does not target bars and restaurants. “Locally some of our most responsible restauranteurs have been some of our most vocal supporters,” said Barrett of the individualized health plans. “They recognize that they have a responsibility as businesses to provide a safe setting.”

On Friday the health department announced that three businesses were being newly cited, following two violations issued earlier in the year. Sixty-two warnings have been issued. Jackson said a citation for Serb Hall is pending.

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Categories: Health, Public Safety

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