Pitt County Sheriff Paula Dance

Pitt County Sheriff Paula Dance

A Corey Road trampoline park that has operated in violation of state virus control measures since May shut its doors Tuesday after the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office warned the owners they would be arrested.

T.J. and Jamie Saywer, owners Air U Indoor Trampoline Park, announced on Facebook that “under the threat of arrest Air U will be closed until further notice.”

Sheriff Paula Dance later confirmed her office told the owners of the business they would be arrested if they continued to operate because they were violating the section of a state order that closed indoor exercise facilities to curb the spread of COVID-19. The sheriff’s office had already issued more than three dozen citations for violating the order issued by Gov. Roy Cooper.

“A deputy made contact with Air U (Monday) to inform them that we would no longer continue issuing citations; that if they chose to continue violating the order, then arrests would follow instead of citations,” Sgt. Lee Darnell, a sheriff’s office spokesman, said.

The enforcement action comes as the state and county continue to see increases in the daily number of new virus cases and record high hospitalization rates. Pitt County on Tuesday reported a one day increase of 36 cases while statewide the number of people in the hospital with the virus was at 989.

The Sawyers’ announcement also came the same day a superior court judge ruled bowling alleys could reopen if they meet sanitizing and social distancing rules, The Associated Press reported.

The business sits just outside of the Greenville city limits, putting it in the county jurisdiction. Deputies issued 41 citations for the business, the first being on May 28, after receiving a citizen complaint that it was open, Darnell said. Patrol deputies also confirmed the business was open.

In a Facebook post Dance said, “The office of the sheriff was not designed to write laws or to hand pick which laws are worthy of being enforced. As the sheriff of Pitt County, I will always enforce the law fairly and justly for every citizen and business, to the best of my ability.”

The post went on to say Dance worked with the owners, “giving them ample time and opportunity to seek counsel to mount a legal challenge against the governor’s order if that was their wish.”

The governor has vetoed several bills passed by the General Assembly that sought to reopen gyms, bars and other entertainment venues.

“Nothing appears to have changed, and no progress appears to have been made toward becoming compliant,” the sheriff’s post said. “Their opening for business remains an illegal practice. Enforcing the law remains the job of the sheriff.”

According to criminal court calendars on the North Carolina Judicial Branch website, the Sawyers have District Court appearances scheduled for July 20. They also have appearances scheduled for August and October. T.J. Sawyer even has court appearances scheduled in January.

“We are a husband and wife operation attempting to provide a way for our staff and their families to survive and pay their bills as well as for our family while keeping public safety a top priority,” the couple wrote Tuesday. “We are seeking legal counsel and hope to reopen in the near future.”

The couple said they have followed “all safety guidelines” and the facility is “professionally cleaned on a regular basis.” Staff cleans and sanitizes every hour and the business closes early for “deep cleaning and sanitation.”

“Our staff wear masks, our parents wear masks unless they meet one of the listed exemptions,” the couple said. “We offer hand sanitizer before and after participation, we do thermal temperature checks for each staff member and customer prior to entry and we operate at well below the 50 percent capacity allowed for other establishments.

“We do not have and have not had any COVID cases at our facility, proving that our type of facility can operate safely,” they said.

Darnell said the sheriff’s office is currently dealing with two other businesses located in unincorporated areas of the county that are not complying with the governor’s executive order. He said deputies have issued multiple citations but have not told the owners they will be arrested.

“We have received complaints on other facilities being open that may not be allowed under this phase. All but two have been within municipalities, and the callers (were) referred to the appropriate police departments,” Darnell said.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.