Arrest of unmasked resident sparks social media furor

Woman refused to comply with protocols at supervisors meeting, authorities said

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The arrest of an unmasked San Benito County resident and business owner at the supervisors meeting chambers Dec. 15 has sparked a firestorm of commentary on social media and among the community.

Courtney Neilsen Evans was arrested by sheriff’s deputies after “repeatedly refusing to adhere to the face covering mandate,” according to Sheriff’s Capt. Eric Taylor. Face coverings are required to attend the supervisors’ meetings at 481 Fourth St. in downtown Hollister.

Taylor said Evans was given multiple chances to comply with the face covering mandate before she was arrested. He added that Evans had remained in the county building after she was asked to leave.

“Despite being offered a face covering and being asked to comply, Courtney Neilsen (Evans) was taken into custody by our deputies so the meeting could continue uninterrupted,” Taylor said in an email.

Evans was ultimately booked on suspicion of trespassing and obstructing the work of a peace officer, Taylor said.

She was arrested about 9:30am, and released from custody not long thereafter. The supervisors meeting started about 9am. Several hours later on an agenda item regarding Covid-19 guidelines, supervisors and residents debated about whether individuals and business owners can be trusted to follow the public health protocols without active enforcement efforts.

Taylor said in reference to Evans’ Dec. 15 arrest, “We understand and appreciate that there are different perspectives on the health orders, and we respect the right to free speech. But that expression of free speech cannot be disruptive in a public forum intended for the entire community to participate.”

Evans, the founder and owner of Kamal Yoga Studio on McCray Street in Hollister, has since been outspoken about the incident on social media, arguing that the arrest was a violation of her rights. Evans did not return a phone call requesting further comment.

Evans posted a video of the arrest—recorded by a bystander—which shows two deputies approach her while she was sitting in a chair in the chambers audience area.

After a brief conversation, the deputies lifted Evans out of her chair and put her arms behind her back as they handcuffed her. Evans can be heard in the video saying she wanted to call her lawyer, and telling the deputies they were hurting her while she was being handcuffed.

A screenshot of a video posted Dec. 15 shows two San Benito County Sheriff’s deputies arresting Courtney Neilsen Evans at the supervisors meeting chambers. 

Later on Dec. 15, Evans posted a six-minute video from the driver’s seat of a vehicle, in which she offers her account of the incident and more commentary on the Covid-19 public health protocols.

In the video, Evans argued that she had attended the supervisors meeting in order to speak during the public comment period. She said it was her right to speak at the meeting and be present at the public county building.

The video included a call for activism directed to her followers. “I hope you show support for this country and the people that have fought for it by stopping with your compliance,” Evans said in the video. “Stop wearing your mask. Stop closing your businesses. Stop with these ridiculous guidelines.”

The two videos posted on Evans’ Facebook page have drawn hundreds of comments from other social media users.

Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez stepped into the fray, posting his own take on the incident on his Facebook page. Velazquez’ post criticized Evans’ actions and referred to her as “the leader of the local Anti Masker group.”

“They don’t seem to care that local people are getting sick and dying from this virus,” Velazquez posted, referring to Evans and other activists. “The only thing they seem to care about is making money.”

Taylor said the sheriff’s office will “continue to take an educational approach to Covid-19 guidelines.”