Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther walked out of the Dallas County Jail shortly before 2 p.m. on Thursday, after the Texas Supreme Court ordered her release.
Luther was met with cheers and hugs from supporters who have rallied around her since she reopened her North Dallas salon: Salon A La Mode, despite state orders against it.
“I just want to thank all of you who I just barely met and now you’re all my friends,” said Luther to the crowd. “You mean so much for me and this would have been nothing without you.”
Luther was booked into jail on Tuesday following a hearing in which District Court Judge Eric Moyé found her in criminal and civil contempt of court for refusing to close her salon, even after receiving a temporary restraining order from the city of Dallas and after refusing to apologize for repeatedly flouting a state order to remain closed.
Judge Moyé sentenced Luther to seven days behind bars with a fine of $1,000 per day -- $500 per day for the contempt charge and $500 per day for each day her business was open.
The total fines for the violations, which were civil and not criminal, were to be $7,000.
The Supreme Court's order Thursday closely followed Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's move to remove jail as a punishment for violating his executive order for coronavirus restrictions.
However, Luther's release under Abbott's announcement appeared unlikely because court documents show that she is jailed for contempt of court and not for violating Abbott's executive order.
“Shelley was in [jail] for contempt, it was contempt of court for violating the temporary restraining order so she was not in jail because she violated the executive order,” clarified Luther’s attorney Warren Norred.
Although he does not believe the governor’s move directly affected Luther’s release from jail, Norred says it helps other business owners.
“The governor’s amendment to his executive order was certainly welcome and there are many people, thousands of people in this state, that are better off because of that order,” he said.
"Throwing Texans in jail who have had their businesses shut down through no fault of their own is nonsensical, and I will not allow it to happen," Abbott said in a statement.
Not everyone sees this as a win. Dallas Councilman Omar Narvaez had words for Governor Gregg Abbott, who amended his executive order to eliminate jail time for those who do not comply.
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“If he didn’t want people to have punishments with potential jail tie, fines, etcetera, then he probably should have thought that through from the get-go,” said Narvaez.
Narvaez said interference from Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton sends the wrong message.
“The message is that if you have connections, you have money, you have privilege, that you get treated one way,” he said. “And if you don’t, then you get treated a different way.”
LaKeisha Montgomery is president of the Dallas Beautician Association. She said the pandemic has been difficult both financially and emotionally for cosmetologists.
“Those individuals become like family to us. So not only are they suffering off of the income that’s not coming in, but a lot of people are nurtured off of those relationships,” she said.
Montgomery said several of them feel their efforts were disregarded.
“A lot of people have been kind of upset about it because they’ve done what they need to do,” said Montgomery. “They have been home. They have been doing the best that they can.”
She too is concerned about equity.
“I just wish that justice could be just and that we could all be on the same playing field,” she said.
Abbott also mentioned two women along the Texas border who were similarly jailed for violating his executive orders, but whose arrests have not drawn as much attention or inspired protests.
The reversal reflects the increasing pressure Abbott is under to reboot the state’s economy at a much faster pace. It also comes just as Abbott was scheduled to meet Thursday with President Donald Trump at the White House to discuss the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Texas began letting restaurants and retailers reopen last week under limited capacity. At the time, Abbott suggested it would not be until mid-May that barbershops and hair salons could resume serving customers. But some have balked and openly defied his timeline, including two GOP state lawmakers who let reporters film them getting haircuts outside of Houston earlier this week.
Texas has had more than 34,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 940 deaths related to the virus. On Wednesday, Texas reported 42 new deaths, one of its highest single-day totals since the outbreak began, but Abbott has said he is focused on hospitalization rates that remain steady and infection rates that have dropped since mid-April.
Luther was cited last month for keeping her salon open despite state and local directives that kept nonessential businesses closed, but she continued to defy the order and tore up a cease and desist letter in front of TV cameras.
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“I couldn’t feed my family, and my stylists couldn’t feed their families,” Luther testified Tuesday, 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.
A GoFundMe account set up for Luther has raised more than $500,000.
Tracking COVID-19 Cases in North Texas Counties
NBC 5 is tracking the number of COVID-19 related cases, recoveries and deaths in North Texas counties. Choose a county and click on a city or town to see how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting your area.
Cases are cumulative by day and are subject to change, dependent on each county health department's reporting schedule and methodology. Data may be reported county-wide, by city or town, or not at all. Cases, recoveries and death counts in 'unspecified' categories are used as placeholders and reassigned by their respective counties at a later date.
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“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.