The owners of a South Orange event space were charged with violating NJ Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order that limits indoor gatherings to 10 people, after the business allegedly hosted a party with between 100-150 customers on November 21. South Orange Police and Fire Departments responded to the location around 1 a.m. after smoke detectors were activated, according to Police Chief Kyle Kroll.
Police issued summonses to Russell Bennett, a 66-year-old resident of West Orange, and Othneil Stewart, a 41-year-old Montclair resident, both of whom are affiliated with The Suite Spot, at 24 First Street, and who allegedly facilitated the event, Kroll said.
Both men were given a court appearance of Tuesday, December 8.
NJ State Police Colonel Patrick J. Callahan noted in the Governor’s press briefing on Monday that a South Orange business had been charged with a violation of the indoor gathering limit, along with several businesses in Newark.
The Governor had issued the new executive order on November 16 lowering the limit on indoor gatherings from 25 to 10 people. Penalties that businesses and individuals might face for violating the order include measures such as fines, the loss of liquor licenses or closure, Murphy has said.
It wasn’t the first time the establishment had allegedly violated the indoor gathering limit, according to a statement from Village President Sheena Collum. “Despite our best efforts, including a cease-and-desist letter sent by our municipal counsel, this establishment has continued to display a cavalier disregard for the safety of patrons, the general public, and our dedicated first responders who have answered repeated calls to this location,” Collum wrote.
“For nearly nine months, the Village has continued to work in partnership with our business community to provide public health guidance and assistance in addition to expediting permits and other reasonable requests that were consistent with Executive Orders issued by Governor Murphy and informed by health professionals,” said Collum. “I am very grateful for the swift action provided by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office in conjunction with our South Orange Police Department in filing a criminal complaint against this establishment.”
She continued, “Additionally, I would also like to acknowledge the overwhelming majority of our businesses who, despite incredible personal and financial sacrifices, have gone above and beyond prioritizing the safety of our South Orange community and guests – thank you for all your continued efforts.”