Local barber and city clash over reopening

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By Jessie Wagoner

Friday afternoon, Luke Aichele, barber and owner of Luke’s Barbershop in McPherson, made a public post on Facebook which garnered the attention of community members and politicians alike. 

“I received an arrest warrant today @ [sic] the barbershop for following my constitutional rights. Like to see who supports me and any ideas,” the post said. 

 

Aichele’s post was shared multiple times, including to the McPherson Public Right to Know Facebook group. The post garnered 418 comments before comments were disabled and the post removed. Comments were split between those in support of Aichele reopening in spite of the governor’s order keeping barbershops closed until May 18 and those who were upset Aichele wasn’t following the order. 

The News-Ledger staff reached out to Aichele and the McPherson County Sheriff on Friday evening. McPherson County Sheriff Jerry Montagne advised Aichele had not be served with an arrest warrant but had been given a warning and asked to voluntarily close and abide by the executive orders. Aichele has maintained he was served with a warrant and would continue to operate.

“I’m staying open,” Aichele said in a message. “Fifth amendment says they have no right to take away my income without compensation. I haven’t received any unemployment.” 

While barbers and beauticians are not usually eligible for unemployment insurance, an exception has been made as a result of COVID-19. Aichele and other barbers are eligible to apply and receive unemployment. 

Friday night, McPherson County 911 was overwhelmed with 911 calls placed in regard to Aichele’s post. McPherson County 911 made the following post on Facebook to address the issue. 

“It has come to our attention (due to MULTIPLE callers to the dispatch center) that there was a warrant issue surrounding a local business owner today. Just by looking at some of the posts on Facebook, some of you are EXTREMELY upset about this.

“We’d like to ask you, our citizens, to not contact the dispatch center regarding this. Dispatch does not make or enforce laws. We send resources…that’s our job. Need an ambulance? We’ll get you one. Need an officer? Yep, we’ll send one right away. Need the fire department? They’re as good as there. Need to complain to someone that can actually do something about a warrant for a business owner? I’m sorry, we can’t do anything there. (Notice we used the word CAN’T…not WON’T.)

“By contacting the dispatch center, all you are doing is tying up a dispatcher. And that could be detrimental if someone calls in with a critical emergency. Calling in and being belligerent and rude to our dispatchers might make you feel better, but it’s making for a very unpleasant evening for us, and we’re essentially innocent bystanders in this whole thing.

“We’d like you to direct your complaints to the County Attorney’s Office. 620-241-1027. They aren’t there right now, but you can leave a message asking for a call back. Please don’t call any of the Law Enforcement Center phone numbers, because those all roll to dispatch when it’s outside of normal business hours. Thank you for your cooperation.”

Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle and U.S. Congressman Roger Marshall began commenting on Aichele’s post and tweeting about the issue Saturday. Neither Marshall nor Wagle spoke with McPherson city officials or law enforcement prior to making statements. 

During Monday’s city commission meeting, Mayor Tom Brown issued the following statement in regard to the incident, stating several times no arrest warrant was issued. 

“As mayor, I would like to set the record straight and hopefully give citizens and media a more complete understanding of the situation involving reopening of personal services and businesses such as barber shops and beauty shops. 

“Before Phase One of the Kansas Ad Astra Plan to reopen businesses was to start, I sent the following email to a member of governor’s immediate staff. On May 1, 2020, at 2:21 p.m., which was the Friday before the plan was to take effect. 

“’Good Afternoon, 

“’I would like to request Gov. Kelly reconsider barber shops and beauty salons. Most of the people in McPherson owning these businesses are younger people with families. If they cannot open, they will go bankrupt. Surely the wearing of PPE, by the barber and the customer, plus proper cleaning of the shops and equipment is a lower risk then people sitting six feet away in a restaurant for an hour. People who do not think it is safe do not have to patronize them. I do not want to issue a series of Class C misdemeanors to young people trying to survive financially.

“’Tom Brown, Mayor, City of McPherson’

“I was told Phase Two would allow these businesses and the phase strategy would stay in place. When Luke’s Barbershop opened last week, I had discussed with the city prosecutor who had discussions with the city attorney. I did not want to issue an arrest warrant. Our McPherson Police Department visited the barbershop multiple times, giving a warning, but did not issue a citation. We were trying to get the barbershop to close until May 18 when they should be allowed to open. 

“I argued the city should not be the governmental entity to issue any citation. The city had not issued any of the restrictions. Since the city and the county have concurrent law enforcement jurisdiction, my opinion was the county sheriff should be involved. The McPherson County Sheriff made a visit to Luke’s Barbershop and had a court order for an arrest. He did not deliver it but asked for voluntary closure. Luke’s Barbershop was not opened on Saturday to take scheduled appointments. 

“During these multiple visits, PPE was not being used as portrayed on TV news or stated by Congressman Marshall. The county attorney has jurisdiction in this matter and not the city. During the weekend, discussions were held with the Kansas Attorney General. It was decided the court order for arrest should be withdrawn and not issued. No arrest warrant has ever been given. 

“We are operating with the understanding that reopening noncompliance events will be documented. The attorney general will study the situation and issue an opinion in one to two weeks. Neither the City of McPherson or McPherson County has delivered an arrest warrant to anyone. 

“We were doing everything possible to not issue any kind of citation. Both Sheriff Montange and Chief Golden are very people oriented and empathetic to the situation. They and their staff are good people. I do not believe we deserve the criticism of the community and the media. We were trying to achieve a reconciliation without escalation. Again, no arrest citation has been given. 

“I have confidence the attorney general will provide a good solution to this problem. Hopefully, Phase Two will resolve the issue on May 18 and there will not be any delay.”

As of press time, Luke’s Barbershop is closed, as are all other barber and beauty shops in McPherson. City officials have encouraged business owners to contact them if they need help acquiring proper PPE to assist in the reopening process.