The San Antonio Aquarium was shut down by police on Saturday after its owner violated an emergency declaration by the state for non-essential establishments to close their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The aquarium owner refused to close the establishment’s doors even after the Leon Valley Police Department personally advised them last Wednesday that they could not be open to the public, Chief of Police Joseph Salvaggio told CNN.
After arriving at the aquarium on Saturday, police officers gave the manager present a citation, and ordered her to immediately shut down the aquarium.
However, Salvaggio said when police officers returned over an hour later, the aquarium still “had people there and were operating as if there was no emergency declaration in place.”
The aquarium was occupied by more than 15 visitors there for a birthday party, as well as 10 employees of the aquarium.
“We gave them a second citation and the officers physically walked around and removed the party-goers and non essential employees,” he added.
The aquarium’s decision to stay open over the weekend came just days after the City of Leon Valley, where the aquarium is located, had ordered bars, bowling alleys, restaurants, gyms and the aquarium to close.
The aquarium is also not permitted to have any more than nine employees present to take care of the animals, according to police. A violation of the ordinance is considered a Class C misdemeanor and businesses will face a maximum $1,000 fine. After the second fine, the business’ Certificate of Occupancy will be suspended.
If the owner violates the ordinance one more time, police will revoke the aquarium’s certificate of occupancy and chain the main entry doors shut. Police will also be seeking additional charges on the owner “in the near future,” according to Salvaggio.
“The owner of the San Antonio Aquarium put the citizens, and now my officers in danger with his reckless actions,” Salvaggio said. “The last thing we want to do is to have to enforce laws that have been put in place for the health, safety and welfare of the public.”
The aquarium’s website on Saturday listed the establishment as still open for business, and assured potential visitors that the building was clean, and that soap and hand sanitizer were available.
When asked why the aquarium remained open for business despite warnings from officials, general manager Paul Mefford told CNN that employees were following “confusing” written guidelines.
Mefford did not answer why the aquarium continued to hold a birthday party an hour after receiving a citation from police.
By Monday, however, the aquarium had issued an official notice on its website noting that it has closed its doors, indefinitely.