Fresno police chief discusses department's role in enforcing mask guidelines in city

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- This was the scene that caused management to shut down the Sprouts north Fresno location Saturday afternoon.

A heated anti-mask demonstration took place outside the grocery store as people tried to enter.

Officers were called to the shopping center -- they say it wasn't to enforce any mask ordinance but to make sure things remained peaceful

"It does become a violation of the law if they are harassing customers, if they are intimidating customers and I don't believe that is what Mr. Martin and his group want to do," says Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama.

Mr. Martin is Ben Martin -- a local real estate agent who claims wearing a mask violates federal law

According to investigators, this was not the first store Martin's group has protested against.

Sprouts officials say masks are required to enter the store -- and pressed trespassing charges against him after they say he went inside the store and refused to leave

"Mr. Martin was detained, he was temporarily arrested," Balderrama said.

Martin was released but officers documented the incident.

This, however, was not Martin's first run-in with the law -- court records show he was accused of domestic violence by his then-girlfriend in June of 2017.

Later that year, another arrest warrant was issued for Martin when his estranged wife said he threatened to and then damaged her car.

Those charges were eventually dropped after making a felony plea agreement on the domestic violence charge.

Martin is currently a free man and remains on informal probation

Meantime -- Chief Balderrama says his department will continue to protect those individuals exercising their constitutional right, however, these types of protests are pulling officers away from their normal duties.

"During a time when I really want to focus on violent crime and reducing shootings and homicides, this is something we have to deal with on a weekly basis, so that's unfortunate," Balderrama said.

The city later released a list of guidelines for business owners for dealing with anti-mask protesters:

  • Ask the person to put on a mask or leave the business

  • if the person refused to put on a mask or leave, the conduct might now be considered trespassing

  • should you believe a trespass violation has occurred, you can call the Fresno Police Department for a response

  • if a responding officer witnesses the trespassing violation, they may cite or arrest an individual

  • if the conduct is witnessed by a store owner/employee - the violation may be treated as a citizen's arrest

  • if protestors want to exercise their first amendment rights they can do so, as long as it is done outside on the public sidewalk or designated area and does not interfere with a customer's ability to enter or exit the business
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