Closing a restaurant for allegedly violating COVID-19 safety protocols wasn't a quick process in Jefferson County. From first warning to temporary shutdown, it took more than three months to shutter Golden's Dirty Dogs Roadhouse over a pro-Donald Trump event that was almost entirely mask-free and displayed little evidence of physical distancing. And the watering hole was open again less than two weeks later.
Dirty Dogs Roadhouse co-owner Rob Tompkins declined to comment on the episode and its aftermath. But Jim Rada, Environmental Health Services division director for Jefferson County Public Health, the agency that did the deed, chalks up the sluggish pace of the procedure to bureaucratic changes instituted between the first warning and the ultimate action.
Colorado COVID Watch, an advocacy group that last year launched a petition demanding that Governor Jared Polis enforce public-health orders, had filed a Colorado Open Records Act, or CORA, request with JCPH, requesting information on actions taken against businesses for violating guidelines since the start of the pandemic.
The Jeffco branch responded with documents that included warnings for violations of face-covering edicts and social distancing guidelines; recipients included a barbershop, a vape store, a hobby specialist and even a firearms supplier. But Dirty Dogs Roadhouse earned multiple name-checks.
The initial missive sent to Tompkins and co-owner Mark Miklos, dated September 18, 2020, began: "This letter is written to inform you that Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) is issuing its First Notice of Violation for Dirty Dogs Roadhouse, located at 17999 West Colfax Avenue. On September 12, 2020, Dirty Dogs Roadhouse hosted an event called Laurel for HD24: MAGA Bikers for Trump Rally." That gathering was tied to the candidacy of Lauren Imer, a Republican who subsequently lost to Monica Duran in her bid for the House District 24 seat.
Accompanying the text were photographs that, as noted by JCPH, "show customers commingling at the bar, not complying with social distancing requirements by standing less than six feet from one another, customers failing to wear masks while not seated, and several staff members are not wearing masks around their nose and mouth."
A second letter to Dirty Dogs Roadhouse, dated October 1, was described as a "final notice of violation." A key passage, printed in bold, stated: "You are hereby ordered to immediately come into compliance with the above-mentioned executive and public health orders. ... Failure to do so may result in civil or criminal legal action including steps to suspend or revoke your Liquor License, and License to Operate a Retail Food Establishment."
The county finally ordered Dirty Dogs to close on December 23. Three days later, the Dirty Dogs Roadhouse Facebook page declared: "We have been temporarily shut down but you can count on us to reopen ASAP!!!"
A December 29 followup addressed to "All Our Loyal Customers" added: "If You are So Inclined. Let Jefferson County Health Know What An Injustice Is Being Done To Closing Dirtydogs And Tell them what Your Thoughts Are With A Level Headed Articulate Phone Call.... WE NEED YOUR PHONE CALL NOW TO GET US BACK OPEN!" Included was contact information for JCPH executive director Mark Johnson, who had actually retired a couple of months earlier.
Dirty Dogs also shared a link to the Colorado Restaurant Coalition Legal Defense Fund's de facto mission statement: "Calling on all restaurants and bars to participate and be included in a lawsuit against the State of Colorado. To be included in this law suit, we are asking each bar owner to put $1,000 into the fund. We anticipate needing to give a $20,000 retainer to legal counsel to get this lawsuit initiated. Open our restaurants to inside dining at a 50 percent or 100 percent capacity and stop targeting our establishments while Walmart Home Depot and grocery store are at no limitations! Open this state up.... We can no longer sit idly while our state government limits our ability to run our businesses with no proven science that our bar/restaurants are the cause of the uptick."
On January 4, Governor Jared Polis moved all Colorado counties that rated Level Red on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment dial — including Jefferson County — to Level Orange, allowing restaurants to reopen their dining rooms at limited capacity and for venues to also offer live music, among other things.
In the meantime, Dirty Dogs management had been in discussions with the county. And on January 5, the Dirty Dogs Facebook page announced that after "fighting tooth and Nail...to light a fire under jcph," the bar would reopen at 7 a.m. the next day. It now has a lineup of events, including bands, listed on that page, along with a note that masks are required.
"Jefferson County Public Health has had numerous contacts with the operators of the Dirty Dogs Roadhouse since the spring of 2020," Rada reveals. "As with all of our local businesses, we initially responded to calls about this facility with an educational approach and tried diligently to assist the owners to attain compliance with the various public health orders that CDPHE has enacted throughout the pandemic response. Ultimately, it became apparent that this approach was ineffective and that more formal enforcement actions would be necessary. The order to close was the culmination of the issuance of warnings and notices of violation."
Why did it take so long? According to Rada, "JCPH modified its enforcement procedures between October (when we issued the first final notice of violation) and December. As a result, JCPH issued a second final notice of violation on December 18, 2020, to ensure that Dirty Dogs Roadhouse received fair warning before JCPH issued its December 23, 2020, closure order."
In other words, it took two final notices for the order to finally be final.
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