RAMONA, Calif. (CNS) – The owner of a Ramona gym has been charged with keeping his business open in violation of California’s COVID-19-related public health orders.
Peter San Nicolas, who owns Ramona Fitness Center, faces five misdemeanor counts of violating the California Emergency Services Act, according to a criminal complaint filed Friday by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.
The complaint alleges violations of the health order requiring that all gyms and fitness centers remain closed. The violations allegedly occurred on June 2, June 4, June 5, July 15 and July 17, according to the complaint. Each count carries a penalty of up to six months in jail or a $1,000 fine.
San Nicolas told FOX 5 the San Diego Sheriff’s Department visited his gym on those dates, but was not under the impression formal charges would follow.
“Basically it was more of a warning. In fact they told me there wasn’t going to be any fines, no arrests, but we just need to make a report.”
San Nicolas had re-opened the gym at the start of June, two weeks before the state gave the official green light. It has been open ever since, even after the state pulled back on gym openings mid-July.
“This helps build your immune system, helps make you stronger, mentally, physically. I just think my goal has always been to help people and by opening I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, said San Nicolas.
San Nicolas says he learned of the charges like everyone else on Monday and he and his lawyer Gary Kreep, a former San Diego Superior Court judge, hadn’t even seen the criminal complaint yet.
“Personal opinion, Peter is a small businessman he doesn’t have millions of dollars behind him. I think what the DA is doing is trying to ‘win one for the cause’, they’re going to try to make an example out of Peter,” said Kreep.
As of Monday, The Ramona Fitness Center remains open, but San Nicolas says he is working on getting an outdoor workout area properly set up. He also added there have been no COVID-19 outbreaks tied to his gym, to his best knowledge.
San Nicolas is slated for an arraignment on Dec. 1.
District Attorney’s spokeswoman Tanya Sierra said, “We understand and sympathize with the significant hardship placed on businesses who are required to remain closed. But public health orders are in place to safeguard the health of everyone in our community amid this deadly pandemic. Along with our law enforcement partners, we work with businesses to give them opportunities to achieve voluntary compliance. But when the public health order is ignored and the law is broken, the public’s health is at risk and we will file charges.”
Gyms were among state businesses that were allowed to reopen June 12, but indoor operations were shuttered about one month later, with Gov. Gavin Newsom citing a surge in COVID-19 cases.
In San Diego County, several gyms have continued to operate indoors in violation of public health orders from the state and county. Many of those businesses have been cited, while county public health officials have also ordered the closures of some gyms for remaining open.