By Debra Moore
Steven Betts, the Quincy barber who defied the governor’s emergency order and began cutting hair back in April, will perform community service for the offense. District Attorney David Hollister, who charged Betts with violating government code 8665, made the announcement July 30.
In Plumas County Superior Court, with Judge Janet Hilde presiding, Hollister outlined the steps taken before Betts was charged, which included education about the government code and four warnings. Hollister said Betts “admitted he knew that what he was doing was against the law, but was going to do so anyway.” He added that Betts not only defied the order himself, but encouraged others to do the same.
“We want Mr. Betts to comply not just because it’s the law, but because it helps keep our community safe,” Hollister said. “To Mr. Betts’ credit, the same week he was cited he discontinued his actions and complied with the governor’s order.”
Hollister said one of his goals in reaching a resolution was to make sure there was no long-term impact to Betts’ license, and that after talking with legal counsel for the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, it is his understanding that the agreement reached would spare Betts that consequence.
According to the agreement, Betts waives his right to a speedy trial, will be placed on diversion for one year from the incident (until April 27, 2021), and perform 20 hours of community service work. Hollister added that if Betts “continues to obey all laws and complete the community service, I would ask the court to dismiss this case.”
Reached for comment today, July 31, Betts said, “I’m just glad it’s over.” While at one time he planned to push for a jury trial, he decided the best course of action was to move on and focus on his business. He cuts hair at his two locations – the East Quincy Barber Company and the Depot Barbershop in Portola, as well as runs Sierra Charters.
As for Hollister’s assertion that his license could be taken away, Betts said it isn’t that simple. “It’s not cut and dry,” he said, adding there’s a process that would need to be followed and he could present his case.
While he isn’t happy about being cited, Betts thinks that it might have contributed to the county writing a letter to the state seeking a waiver to allow businesses to open up sooner. “I was cited on a Monday and the letter went out on a Friday,” he said. As long as the county can stay off the state’s watch list then Betts thinks his businesses will survive, even though business is quieter than usual. For his barbershops, he attributes that to some of his elderly clientele staying home, and for the shuttle service, weddings and other events are being cancelled.
When Steve Betts reopened his East Quincy Barber Company on April 27 amid the coronavirus state stay-at-home order, one of the first customers to get a haircut was Plumas County District 5 Supervisor Jeff Engel, but that reopening turned out to be short lived. Betts was cited for violation of Government Code section 8665, which states that anyone who “refuses or willfully neglects” to obey a lawful order is guilty of a misdemeanor and could be fined up to $1,000, imprisoned for six months or both.
He closed up shop May 1, after the California State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology issued a statement warning businesses of disciplinary action against licenses if state orders were violated, and June 2 he had his day in court.
According to District Attorney David Hollister, roughly a couple dozen people, wearing face masks and taking designated seats, showed up to watch the proceedings. Betts, who was represented by attorney Joseph Tully, entered a plea of not guilty and waived his right to a speedy trial. His next court date is scheduled for Thursday, July 30, at 9 a.m.
Betts has previously said that he “would push it to a trial,” confident that a jury of his peers would side with him. Supervisor Engel, when interviewed at the time of the citation agreed. “Where are you going to find 12 people to convict him for trying to make a living?” he asked. (Rather than go to trial, Betts agreed to the community service offer.)
Since the citation was issued, Plumas County has allowed barbershops and beauty salons to reopen with mitigation and safety measures in place.