NJ Gym Owners Kick In Doors, Reopen After Arrest Over Defiance

BELLMAWR, NJ — The owners of a South Jersey gym who were arrested last week after constantly defying the state’s stay-at-home orders reopened again over the weekend.

Video posted online shows Atilis Gym owners Ian Smith and Frank Trumbetti kicking down the wooden barriers that were put in place on their gym in Bellmawr after they were arrested last week.

They were arrested on July 27 for repeatedly defying Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus pandemic. The state Attorney General is now seeking stiffer penalties against Smith and Trumbetti, including fines of up to $10,000 a day and possible detainment, the Courier Post reports.

In the video — which can be seen below — Smith and Trumbetti kick the wooden barriers down to cheers from supporters who gathered at the gym.

“I hate the fact that it has to come to this,” Smith said in a statement attached to the video. “Governor Murphy can portray us in whatever villainous way he wants, but our hands are forced here, and that’s his fault. We are over four months into an economic shutdown that was supposed to be 14 days. It is time to end this and resume life in a safe and responsible manner. Small business is not solely responsible for the spread of the virus, yet we are targeted as such and unfairly treated. You will not trample on our rights and you will not destroy our lives. We will not back down. Ever.”

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The gym was closed again Monday morning, according to the gym’s Facebook page. The post stated the closure was just for one day.

One day before they reopened, Atilis Gym became part of the national coronavirus debate. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) questioned Dr. Anthony Fauci about a range of issues related to the virus on Friday, including Smith and Trumbetti’s arrests.

"So you're allowed to protest — millions of people on one day, in crowds, yelling, screaming — but you try to run your business, you get arrested?" Jordan said. "And if you stood right outside of that same business and protested you wouldn't get arrested?"

"I don't understand what you're asking me, as a public health official, to opine on who should get arrested or not," Fauci said. "That's not my position. You could ask me as much as you want, and I'm not going to answer it."

Smith and Trumbetti were arrested last Monday when they continued to run their gym despite a superior court judge's finding that the gym was in contempt, according to Acting Camden County Prosecutor Jill S. Mayer.

The contempt order called for Smith, 33 of Delanco Township, and Trumbetti, 51 of Williamstown, to cease operations and vacate the gym immediately. However, the gym continued to operate throughout the ensuing weekend, according to the prosecutor's office.

When police asked them to leave the gym, they refused, according to the prosecutor's office. At that point, they were arrested. Trumbetti and Smith were taken to the Bellmawr Police Department, where they were charged and released.

They have each been charged with one count of fourth-degree contempt, one count of obstruction and one count of violation of a disaster control act. The second and third charges are both disorderly persons summons. Read more here: NJ Gym Owners Reopen After Violating Murphy Order: Prosecutor

It was the second time the contempt order had been filed, after a judge found the gym wasn't in contempt earlier in the week. At that time Judge Robert Lougy said State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli would be invited to file another contempt request if it became necessary. Read more here: NJ Gym Not In Contempt, But Must Adhere To Murphy Order: Judge

Later in the week, Persichilli was joined by Grewal and Deputy Attorney General Stephen Slocum in filing a second contempt request, which Lougy granted.

Smith and Trumbetti have since changed the legal status of the gym to to a membership only organization, which he said gives them the right to continue to peaceably assemble. He said if they state continues to come after them, they will retaliate in court.

The gym initially reopened in May, but was quickly shut back down by court order the same week. At one point, authorities put a padlock on the door, but that was later removed.

Since then, the state has claimed Atilis Gym was operating beyond capacity limits and without social distancing, and without following the health and safety protocols issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The gym was closed as part of a statewide executive order closing non-essential businesses in March. In reopened three times in one week in May in defiance of the order. The gym was closed by order of the state after the third reopening. It then reopened a fourth time, but was shut down again by court order.

Smith and Trumbetti then filed a federal lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of the state's "Draconian" shelter-in-place executive orders. Read more: South Jersey Gym Owners That Defied Murphy's Order File Lawsuit

As they filed their lawsuit, Smith and Trumbetti filed a request to reopen via temporary restraining order, which was denied by the same judge that was to hear the new request. Despite the judge denying their request, the gym reopened anyway. Read more here: Judge Denies NJ Gym Owners' Temporary Restraining Order: Report

See related: NJ Coronavirus, Reopen Updates: Here’s What You Need To Know

This article originally appeared on the Gloucester Township Patch