Bellmawr gym owners who reopened were cited and a member was arrested as local police crack down
One member of the gym was arrested and five more were issued a summons for violating the governor's executive order. The owners were charged with a disorderly person’s offense.
Bellmawr police arrested one member of Atilis Gym on Tuesday, and cited its owners for the second day in a row for remaining open in defiance of Gov. Phil Murphy’s orders amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Ian Smith and Frank Trumbetti, the owners, initially reopened the gym Monday after appearances on Fox News programs last week roused national publicity and support. The two were charged with a disorderly person’s offense on Monday as a large crowd gathered out front of the gym on Browning Road.
They were charged with the same offenses around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. Bellmawr police then warned them they could face additional action. Regardless, the gym remained open. Around 12:30 p.m., police began issuing summons citations to members as they left the facility.
One member, who later identified himself only as Matt, 39, of West Deptford, was arrested and charged with obstructing the administration of law, after he declined to give officers his name, and with violating the governor’s executive order.
Temperatures rose as Matt was handcuffed, with the dozen supporters who lingered in the parking lot screaming out in his defense. “They’re arresting a citizen here!” one man yelled, while others screamed, “This is horrible!"
“Five other individuals were issued summons violations of the Governor’s order for utilizing Atilis Gym," the Bellmawr Police Department said in a statement. “One individual was charged with organizing a protest in violation of the Governor’s Order.”
Police did not respond to additional questions.
“I asked them why they needed my name and the next thing I knew they were handcuffing me,” said Matt.
Police drove him to the station, issued him citations, which included a June court date, then released him. He walked back to the parking lot to pick up his car.
“It was quite the surprise,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
Police approached each member as they exited the gym and asked for their names and license-plate information. Officers told people they would be summoned for violating the governor’s orders.
“I’m sorry this happened,” Smith said on the phone to a member who was cited. “Our lawyers will help you.”
» READ MORE: A Bellmawr gym reopened despite Gov. Murphy’s orders. The owners were issued a citation but plan to continue operating.
On Tuesday, a GoFundMe organized by supporters of the gym had raised more than $30,000 to help the owners and members pay for legal fees. Supporters also walked up to the owners and handed them cash as they stood outside the gym, and a few local lawyers offered their services pro bono.
Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. issued a statement stating incidents surrounding the gym put "people at risk to spread the virus. These capricious actions undermine the work we have all done and the progress we have made over the last two months.”
However, Cappelli added that "good points have been raised through this conversation about reopening our businesses.”
Tuesday’s scene was completely different compared with Monday, when police largely stood by as a mass of supporters gathered outside. Around 11 a.m. Monday, three hours after the gym opened, an officer informed the owners and supporters they were in violation of the executive order, then said “have a good day” and walked away. Two hours later, Smith and Trumbetti were issued their first disorderly conduct summons. No arrests or additional citations were given.
Despite the more aggressive stance by police Tuesday, Smith and Trumbetti were not deterred. If anything, the police action affirmed their determination to reopen.
“We’re just being harassed,” said Smith. “You’re going after free citizens who have not broken any laws, and you’re intimidating them with ... financial threats, with potential imprisonment.”
Smith and Trumbetti were convinced the police action was inspired by state orders. On Monday, Murphy warned of a “different reality” for those who choose to use the gym Tuesday. However, Murphy’s office said the action was up to Bellmawr police.
“This is a whole matter for local law enforcement,” Matt Platkin, Murphy’s chief counsel, said Tuesday. “So they’re going to make their own independent determinations as to how to handle the situation and de-escalate as appropriate. But the business itself is being held to the same standard as has been held to every business that’s not subject or subject to the executive orders that the governor has issued across the state.”
Trumbetti said of Murphy’s warning: "He was expecting us to give in and we’re not. I’m going to have to be locked behind bars to not open these doors.”
Officers also cracked down on the protesters, asking them to stay inside their cars. Ayla Wolf, who has organized various protests to reopen New Jersey, was charged with organizing a protest and violating the executive order.
"No gathering of more than 10 people!” one officer yelled at supporters gathering to buy Atilis Gym T-shirts. “We don’t want to charge anybody, but you’re going to force us to.”
Many of the members who arrived were not scared of legal ramifications. Fallon Foca, 18, said he would continue coming to the gym if it remained open.
“This is more than just working out,” said Foca of Marlton. “At a gym like this, a lot of the members have been through a lot. This is a release."
“I’ll figure it out,” he said when asked about potential fines. “Lifting at home is just not the same.”