DALLAS (AP) — A Texas’ judge’s decision to jail a hair salon owner for defying restrictions meant to limit the spread of the coronavirus has drawn criticism from the governor and state attorney general. Shelley Luther was booked in the Dallas County jail on Tuesday afternoon following a video hearing during which she was found in contempt of court and sentenced to a week behind bars. The hearing occurred as Gov. Greg Abbott relaxed more coronavirus restrictions statewide, allowing barbershops and hair salons to reopen Friday.
Abbott, a Republican, said in a Wednesday statement that he thinks the punishment for violating his executive order was “excessive.”
“Compliance with executive orders during this pandemic is important to ensure public safety; however, surely there are less restrictive means to achieving that goal than jailing a Texas mother,” Abbott said.
Last month, Luther was issued a citation for keeping open her Dallas salon despite state and local directives that kept nonessential businesses closed. However, she continued to defy the order.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Luther said she kept the salon open because she needed the money.
“I couldn’t feed my family, and my stylists couldn’t feed their families,” Luther testified, saying she had applied for a federal loan but didn’t receive it until Sunday.
Dallas County Judge Eric Moye said during the hearing that he would consider levying a fine instead of jail time if Luther would apologize and not reopen until she was allowed to do so, but Luther refused.
“Feeding my kids is not selfish,” she told Moye. “If you think the law is more important than kids getting fed, then please go ahead with your decision, but I am not going to shut the salon.”
Moye wrote in his judgment of contempt: “The defiance of the court’s order was open, flagrant and intentional.” He noted that despite being given the opportunity to apologize, Luther “expressed no contrition, remorse or regret” for her actions.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is also a Republican, sent a letter Wednesday to the judge, calling on him to release Luther from jail.
“I find it outrageous and out of touch that during this national pandemic, a judge, in a county that actually released hardened criminals for fear of contracting COVID-19, would jail a mother for operating her hair salon in an attempt to put food on her family’s table,” Paxton said. Moye’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.