NEWPORT CITY — Orleans Superior Court Judge Mary Miles Teachout late Tuesday told business owner Andre “Mike” Desautels and his employees to wear masks inside his Main Street store and stop violating an emergency order by Vermont Gov. Phil Scott.
Teachout granted the state’s motion for a temporary restraining order against Desautels and his company HNR Desautels LLC, on a day that about a dozen protesters rallied on his behalf on Main Street just down the block from the courthouse. The ruling is in place until the judge holds a hearing next week.
Desautels, who owns Derby Port Press, lost his UPS franchise last week after news that he would not wear a mask in violation of the governor’s order went international.
Desautels thanked supporters Tuesday.
“We are here not only fighting for Derby Port Press or the UPS Store originally but for every business in the state of Vermont,” Desautels said on a video posted online by Newport Dispatch.
“They need to make a living. People need to continue to live their lives. Enough is enough. This is for the freedom of the American people,” Desautels said.
On Friday, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan filed a lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction and a temporary restraining order.
In its complaint, the state of Vermont alleged that Desautels and his store were in violation of Scott’s orders by working in the presence of others without wearing required cloth face coverings as protection during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Compliance checks conducted by the Newport Police Department show that Desautels, who formerly did business as the UPS Store, continued to violate the governor’s orders even after the complaint was filed, the AG announced Tuesday.
“I hope that Mr. Desautels follows the lead of countless other Vermont businesses who have followed the governor’s orders,” Donovan said.
“This entire situation is completely avoidable.”
Supporters came from across Vermont to protest the state’s actions against Desautels.
One complained on video that Desautels did not tell customers they did not have to take their masks off.
Desautels posted a sign last week on his door.
“We choose not to wear a mask.
“If you’re uncomfortable with this, we ask that you do not come in to ensure your comfort,” the sign said. “If you decide to come in do not ask us to put a mask on.”
One protester carried a sign calling Scott a dictator.
The court action and protests followed a months’ long dispute between the state and Desautels that involved the Newport Police Department.
Complaints last year prompted the AG’s office to ask the police department to tell Desautels that he was violating the governor’s emergency order requiring face coverings or masks in public places indoors.
Police said that Desautels told them he would not comply.
The AG’s office presented him with two cease-and-desist letters, the most recent a week ago. That prompted Desautels to post his sign outside, and then the news coverage led UPS to end his franchise on Thursday. UPS requires its franchise stores to wear masks and face coverings.
The court has scheduled a virtual hearing on the motion for preliminary injunction for March 5.
The AG is asking that the judge impose a penalty of $1,000 a day for every day that Desautels violates the mask order.