The Vancouver City Attorney’s Office, citing newly discovered evidence, is dismissing the criminal case against a woman who was accused of violating Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order by reopening her pet grooming business in May.
City Attorney Jonathan Young found that prior to the city filing a charge against Kelly C. Carroll on June 5 in Clark County District Court, she had taken proactive steps to make her business “essential” by adding dog day care services and serving essential workers, according to a statement from the city.
These steps made Carroll’s business, The PetBiz at 5620 N.E. Gher Road, lawful under the terms of the governor’s order in response to COVID-19, the city said.
“This fact was never argued by the defense, but the role of a prosecutor is unique in our legal system and requires a commitment to seeking truth rather than convictions,” the statement reads.
A motion to dismiss the charge, a single count of violating an emergency order proclamation, was filed Thursday.
In an email to The Columbian, Carroll’s attorney, Angus Lee, argued that there was no “newly discovered” evidence.
“This information was available to the city the entire time. The claim of ‘new’ evidence is just political cover so they can dismiss a bad prosecution,” Lee said.
According to an affidavit of probable cause, the case revolved around Carroll, 61, of Battle Ground, operating her shop in spite of the governor’s order, specifically Proclamation 20-25.
The essential activities permitted under the proclamation included obtaining necessary supplies and services for family and pets, such as food and household items. It also allowed for activities essential for family and pets, “including things such as seeking medical or behavioral health or emergency services and obtaining medical supplies or medication.”
Caring for a family member or pet was permitted, too, in another residence or to transport them for “essential health and safety activities,” the proclamation states.
The affidavit said Carroll’s grooming shop was in the non-essential category, meaning it was not eligible to continue doing business while the stay-at-home order was in place. Carroll publicized her intent to reopen against the governor’s order and organized a May 16 rally at her shop.
“(She) went through with her plan and held the reopening rally on that date. (Vancouver police) detectives estimated over 100 people attended the rally,” the affidavit says.
A police officer contacted Carroll at her shop three days later. The shop was open, and the officer observed a customer paying for services with a credit card, court records say. Carroll told the officer she “opened her business because she needed money for food and housing,” the affidavit says.
Lee previously told The Columbian that Carroll’s case was the first criminal charge in the state for violating the governor’s order, though state officials could not confirm it.
Carroll began raising money on GoFundMe to help with her legal defense. She wrote on the fundraising page that she was close to losing her home and business.
Protesters targeted the homes of Young and another city prosecutor in late June in response to the case. On a Sunday morning, people first gathered in front of the home of City Prosecutor Kevin McClure. Videos online showed the group stayed at McClure’s home for six to seven hours before moving the protest outside of Young’s house in Vancouver.
Young said in an email that the protests had no impact on the decision to dismiss the charge.
“While the protests, stalking and leafleting has been a distraction, it had nothing to do with the decision to dismiss — if anything, the protests probably kept me from uncovering this information sooner,” he said.
Lee had filed his second motion to dismiss the case on Carroll’s behalf Monday. The defense attorney argued in the motion that Carroll had been singled out for prosecution by the city because she exercised her First Amendment rights to protest the government.
Lee wrote that he obtained emails through a public records request that showed the city had a policy of not enforcing the proclamation when it received social-distancing complaints and had a policy of referring complaints about businesses in violation to a civil regulatory agency instead of the Vancouver Police Department. And in one case, when it discovered an “organized, open and admitted, large scale intentional ongoing violation” chose to take no action and instead pursued “a conversation.”
In his email to The Columbian, the defense attorney noted that Vancouver police aided in a Black Lives Matter march in June. Officers helped protesters reach and walk across the Interstate 5 Bridge, even though the gathering was in violation of the exact order for which Carroll was being actively prosecuted, Lee argued.
He said it is clear from the record that Carroll was selected by the city attorney’s office for prosecution because she had spoken out against the lockdown and had a rally where many people waived the American flag and engaged in prayer.
“This was not a prosecution, it was a persecution that appears motivated by political and religious animus at the city attorney’s office,” he said.
His client is happy to have the charges dismissed, Lee said, but the court case has caused her financial and emotional harm. She has been the target of online harassment, and her professional reputation has been damaged, he said.