Department of Justice issues cease-and-desist orders, police conduct checkpoints

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct information about Sam Chick from the original press release, and Chick's comments have been added. In the correction, the attorney general's office said, "The business owner referenced below was arrested for failure to obey an emergency order, but was cited in his personal capacity for personal behavior."

The Delaware Department of Justice and law enforcement are cracking down on citizens and businesses that violate the state of emergency declaration.

“This is a tremendously difficult time for everyone, and the only path forward is for all of us to take this seriously as a community,” said Attorney General Kathleen Jennings. “These temporary restrictions are unprecedented, but they are necessary. And when people don’t take these orders seriously, we must step in. You are endangering people’s lives, including law enforcement officers, by forcing unnecessary interaction.”

Jennings’ office has so far cited a handful of individuals for failing to obey the emergency order.

The Department of State has sent several warning letters to businesses, informing them that they will be shut down if their behavior does not change. Six businesses have been issued cease-and-desist orders. One business owner, Sam Chick, was arrested for personal noncompliance in an incident unrelated to his business.

Failure to obey an emergency order is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $50 to $500 and up to six months in prison per infraction.

In addition, the Consumer Protection Unit served a subpoena on the Great Valu at Adams Four in Wilmington related to price gouging allegations. Price gouging incurs penalties of up to $10,000 per offense.

The emergency order calls for any out-of-state individuals traveling into Delaware to immediately self-quarantine for 14 days. It also authorizes law enforcement to stop any vehicle solely for having out-of-state tags.

On Saturday and Sunday, April 4 and 5, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., state police conducted checkpoints throughout Sussex County. Checkpoint locations included on Plantation Road in Lewes, Coastal Highway at Route 1A in Rehoboth Beach, northbound Coastal Highway south of Bethany Beach, Route 113 in the area of Route 20 in Millsboro and Route 24 in the Long Neck area.

Over 2,600 vehicles passed through the checkpoints, 277 of them from out of state. No citations were issued or arrests made.

“Our emphasis and goal in enforcing the orders, specifically in regards to the travel restrictions, is to achieve voluntary compliance through education and awareness,” said Delaware State Police Superintendent Col. Nathaniel McQueen, Jr.

The checkpoints are expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

There are exceptions that allow for out-of-state persons and vehicles to enter Delaware without being required to self-quarantine, including:

Motorists passing through Delaware en-route to other states. Motorists leaving their home state to work for a Delaware designated essential business to care for a family member in Delaware for healthcare reasons (pharmacy, going to vet, visiting doctor)

Sam Chick’s comments, unedited:

Let me start by saying I have great respect for the Dover Police Department, have many friends on the force, and that in my personal experience they have always done an outstanding job. However, there are three officers who really let the city down recently.

Around 7:20 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24th, six people who had been loitering outside a nearby business for some time began peering into the business’s windows repeatedly. A couple of them were known troublemakers who have been arrested multiple times. From across Bradford St., I told them they were loitering and needed to move along. All except one immediately did so. The one who didn’t disperse crossed the street and approached me menacingly, saying, “I’m going to beat you up, I’m going to beat your ass.” I called the police, telling them I had just been threatened with physical violence and gave them an exact description. The suspect fled. The police arrived quickly, but were unable to locate him.

Twenty minutes later, I, along with two other business/property owners, then spotted three of the same individuals, including the one who threatened me, peering into a different store and going into the store’s doorway. We called the police. An officer passed by shortly after, at which time the three left in different directions. The officer then came back and stopped. I approached the officer and told him there’s the guy who threatened me, pointing him out (the individual was crossing the North St. parking lot at that time). The officer just stood there and watched the suspect walk away down North St., so I asked if he was going to go get him. The officer immediately took an attitude and said, “I won’t do anything if you talk to me like that.” Up until this point my tone had been polite. After the officer apparently refused, I matched his attitude and told him in colorful language that he needed to do his job and go get the guy. After a quick back and forth, he said he would “talk to him” and then slowly walked back to his vehicle before departing. He never found the suspect even though we both just saw him.

Twenty minutes later the suspect was again spotted in front of the same business peering into the windows and going into the doorway. I immediately called the police, told them I again spotted the guy who threatened me, and that I was keeping an eye on him until they arrived since they twice failed to find him earlier. A couple minutes later, the same officer from before arrived. At this time the suspect was about fifty yards in front of me and crossing North St. going south towards Governor’s Ave. I pointed the suspect out and said “There he is”, but the officer said, “No come here.” I turned around to come back, and then another officer pulled up, and then a third. All three approached me, and a sergeant and corporal advised me that I was engaging in “vigilantism” and to desist. I asked if they were going to get the person who threatened me. They said “someone” would get him. While the three officers harassed me, the suspect disappeared down Governor’s Ave. After an exchange of words, expressing my disappointment at their response (stopping me instead of pursuing the suspect), I returned to my store.

After closing the store, I went to do a security check on a business property two blocks over whose owner had asked me to do so. I noticed two officers were still parked in the North St. parking lot, so I decided to ask if they had caught the suspect from earlier. The officer I spoke to advised me that no, they did not find him, and that in fact there was no crime. I asked if being threatened in the street was a crime and the officer said no. I told him that was ridiculous. The officer had already called his corporal supervisor to come out who at that time arrived.

I then addressed the corporal, criticizing the (lack of) response to my complaint about being threatened. I told them they had failed to do their job by having three officers hassle me instead of pursuing the suspect who threatened me. I told him it was ridiculous that three officers wasted their time on me and let a criminal get away. The corporal then told me I wasn’t allowed to be on the streets due to the Governor’s order. I told him I most certainly was, that there was property I was out checking on, and that at that moment I am addressing him with complaints, which is my right. I asked him if he was out threatening the bums and drug dealers with violating the Governor’s order too. The corporal told me if I didn’t go home, that he’d arrest me. I told him that I had business to attend to (my reason for being out), that I was going to continue to give him my complaints while he was there, and that he should arrest me if that’s what he thought he should do. I was then placed under arrest at the direction of the corporal and charged with violating the Governor’s emergency order. They handcuffed me, placed me in the back of the car for fifteen minutes, and then released me with a summons.

The story doesn’t end there. Two days later the person who threatened me, the suspect who the police refused to pursue, attacked a disabled man in a downtown parking lot in the middle of the afternoon. Perhaps if the police had taken my complaint seriously and that criminal was arrested two days earlier for threatening me, he would have thought twice before attacking a man in broad daylight.

I am appalled at the treatment I was given and the violation of my rights. The fact is that I was not arrested for violating the Governor’s order- that was a convenient excuse. I was arrested for having the audacity to criticize police officers who were failing to uphold their duty. The corporal in this story was upset about my complaints and used the Governor’s order as a convenient tool to stick it to a citizen who was unhappy with his and his two buddy’s shoddy police work. Let this be a warning to those who would trust authorities with arbitrary power.

However, what I am most disappointed by is the lack of response by the police regarding a legitimate complaint. We are told again and again to call the police when there are crime problems downtown. However, in this instance, the responding officers blew off my complaint and instead treated me like a criminal. Meanwhile the real criminal went on his way, and no longer satisfied with mere threats, went on to attack a disabled man. This is unacceptable.

My only concern is with the safety and security of Dover. These are volatile times. With downtown Dover and other areas across the state shut down, criminals ARE taking advantage of the situation. We’ve had three burglaries downtown and several windows broken in the past few weeks. We now have a downtown neighborhood watch with presence patrols for the duration of the shutdown. We need to know that the police will work with, not against, residents, businesses, and property owners to ensure law and order in our fair city.