Wine Bar Owner Is Santa Barbara County’s First COVID-19 Defier to Be Criminally Charged

Wine Bar Owner Is Santa Barbara County’s First COVID-19 Defier to Be Criminally Charged title=
n a February YouTube video posted amid the statewide lockdown, Kurt Hixenbaugh urged people to visit his wine and beer bar and enjoy its new beer, named Defiance, indoors. “Freedom is delicious,” he says while taking a sip. | Credit: Courtesy
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This story was originally published by the Santa Barbara Independent and is reproduced here in partnership with Edhat.


By Tyler Hayden, The Independent

A former police sergeant turned wine bar owner is the first person in Santa Barbara County to be criminally charged with violating COVID-19 health orders.

Kurt Hixenbaugh, 49, faces four misdemeanor counts for refusing to close Vino et Amicis, located in Old Town Orcutt, during the statewide shutdown that was in effect this winter. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

The District Attorney’s Office filed the complaint after an investigation by the state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which could also revoke the location’s alcohol license.

While Santa Barbara authorities had previously filed a handful of civil cases against businesses ― mainly gyms ― that had refused to close early in the pandemic, Hixenbaugh and Vino et Amicis are the first in the county to be criminally prosecuted.

In December, Hixenbaugh made no secret of his intention to ignore the latest lockdown, declaring in a YouTube video that Governor Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order was misguided and unfair to small businesses. “We’re gonna defy that order,” he said in his six-minute statement. “We don’t agree with it. We think it’s time that people start taking a stand on this, and I hope others will follow.”

Hixenbaugh emphasized that he knew COVID-19 was “real” and that it was “dangerous for certain people.” Even though the bar would remain open, Hixenbaugh said, he pledged to uphold social distancing and mask requirements and maintain a limited capacity. It was Newsom’s insistence on tying Santa Barbara County’s tier metrics to the rest of Southern California that frustrated him, Hixenbaugh said. “It doesn’t make sense,” he declared.

Hixenbaugh goes on to falsely claim, however, that “the data doesn’t support that bars and restaurants are where you get COVID. There’s nothing to prove that.” Multiple studies, including one published by Johns Hopkins University and another by Stanford University, found a clear correlation between restaurant and bar openings and the spread of the virus.

On his personal Facebook page, Hixenbaugh also frequently shares posts suggesting that people have been brainwashed into believing the dangers of COVID-19, and that the government’s health orders aren’t meant to protect but to lull the populace into a state of complacency and dependency. In the comments section, friends cheered his decision to brush off the state rules. “Keep up the good work!” says one. “Two words, one finger to the County DA,” says another.

In a second YouTube video, Hixenbaugh explains that one of Vino et Amicis’s beers, which had originally been named “F-COVID,” was being rebranded as “Defiance.” “The boot on our throat from Sacramento is killing our businesses,” he said, inviting customers to return to the bar and enjoy its indoor service. “Come on down and have a glass of Defiance,” he says, taking a sip. “Freedom is delicious.”

Hixenbaugh last made news reports in 2017 when, as a member of the San Luis Obispo Police Department, he publicly defended a colleague who claimed sexual assault victims frequently “conjured up” reports of rape after consuming too much alcohol. He blamed the media for taking his colleague’s statements out of context.

Hixenbaugh has been ordered to appear in Santa Maria Superior Court on April 29 for an arraignment on his four misdemeanor charges.

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NostraChumash Apr 08, 2021 11:14 AM
Wine Bar Owner Is Santa Barbara County’s First COVID-19 Defier to Be Criminally Charged

I put on my Greens back in 81' &
served with honor..for a country to be free.
There were actions taken that not all agreed with, but we did as told..
It was hard..scary..dangerous & we died so others could live.
It's called Sacrifice.
It's called Character.
Now..it's called, a slap in the face.
You're welcome for nothing.

Alexblue Apr 08, 2021 09:58 AM
Wine Bar Owner Is Santa Barbara County’s First COVID-19 Defier to Be Criminally Charged

So this guy decides he’s right and the government is wrong and he decided to intentionally violate the mandates and endanger people to make a point. He made it very public and now he’s going to pay a price for taking a stand. What’s the big deal? Do the crime, do the time. Shoot, I went to jail over my beliefs (briefly) and I didn’t whine about it because violating the law was an act of conscience.

greytfull Apr 08, 2021 08:46 AM
Wine Bar Owner Is Santa Barbara County’s First COVID-19 Defier to Be Criminally Charged

Freedom To Not Wear A Mask
Welcome to the Freedom Cafe!
We trust you to make your own choices if you want to wear a face mask, or not. And, in the same spirit of individual liberty, we allow our staff to make their own choices about the safety procedures they prefer to follow as they prepare your food. We encourage employees to wash their hands after using the bathroom, but understand that some people may be allergic to certain soaps or simply prefer not to wash their hands. It is not our place to tell them what to do. Some servers may wish to touch your food as they serve it. There is no reason why a healthy person with clean hands can’t touch your food. We will take their word for it, that they are healthy and clean. We understand that you may be used to
chicken cooked at 165 degrees. We do respect that some of our cooks have seen a YouTube video saying that 100 degrees is fine, and we don’t want to encroach on their beliefs. Water temperature and detergent are highly personal choices, and we allow our dishwashing team to decide how they’d prefer to wash the silverware that you’ll put in your mouth. Some of you may get sick, but almost everyone survives food poisoning. We think you’ll agree that it’s a small price to pay for the sweet freedom of no one ever being told what to do,
and especially not for the silly reason of keeping strangers healthy.

SBLetsGetAlong Apr 07, 2021 08:47 PM
Wine Bar Owner Is Santa Barbara County’s First COVID-19 Defier to Be Criminally Charged

“ When he blocked enforcement of state and local bans on indoor and outdoor dining in San Diego County last week, Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil cited a lack of evidence that restaurants following COVID-19 safeguards, such as occupancy limits and physical distancing, posed a significant public health risk.”

https://www.google.com/amp/s/reason.com/2020/12/21/has-restaurants-role-in-spreading-covid-19-been-exaggerated/%3famp

PitMix Apr 08, 2021 07:10 AM
Wine Bar Owner Is Santa Barbara County’s First COVID-19 Defier to Be Criminally Charged

Republican appointed by Schwarzenegger. From the prestigious law school Western State. I guess once we have a chance to do a double-blind study establishing the evidence then he will feel more comfortable supporting bans? After a bunch more people die? How much do you want to bet that he prays to a god despite a clear lack of evidence that there is one?

https://ballotpedia.org/Joel_R._Wohlfeil

SBLetsGetAlong Apr 07, 2021 08:45 PM
Wine Bar Owner Is Santa Barbara County’s First COVID-19 Defier to Be Criminally Charged

“ Data from the county health department shows a small percentage of outbreaks have been tied to restaurants and bars. ”
“ restaurants have been linked to less than 4% of coronavirus outbreaks in non-residential settings, according to data from L.A. County.”

https://www.google.com/amp/s/abc7.com/amp/covid-19-data-restaurants-outdoor-dining/8235279/

Voice of Reason Apr 08, 2021 10:09 AM
Wine Bar Owner Is Santa Barbara County’s First COVID-19 Defier to Be Criminally Charged

To understand their position Chip you have to make some assumptions; 1) preventing a single additional covid death is more important than anything else 2) lives lost as a result of the covid response needs to be ignored 3) long-term educational harm to our youth needs to be ignored 3) long-term mental health consequences for our youth needs to be ignored 4) all the economic harms / lost jobs / bankrupted businesses need to be ignored - no economic cost it too great so long as it appears to prevent an additional covid death (see #1) 5) the health and wellness consequences to our community due to #4 needs to be ignored. 6) long-term consequences of the greatest increase to income / education inequality in our history needs to be ignored. Once you take all that in account you can see how CA really succeeded and Newsom couldn't have done a better job leading our state through this pandemic. Ignorance is bliss...

Chip of SB Apr 08, 2021 09:33 AM
Wine Bar Owner Is Santa Barbara County’s First COVID-19 Defier to Be Criminally Charged

Pit, that extra 1500 people you mention is pretty much a best case scenario. It is such a small difference that it could be statistical noise. Assuming the 1500 figure is correct, were the lockdowns and mask orders worth it to accomplish that? How much harm has been caused by these measures? Do the additional deaths from drug overdoses, suicides, and alcoholism outweigh the 1500 lives saved? And what about the flu? Assuming we have 30,000 flu deaths per year, could a 3% reduction could similarly be achieved with permanent mask orders and business closures. That would save 900 lives every year in this country. Would those lives be worth the sacrifice too?

ChillinGrillin Apr 07, 2021 10:29 PM
Wine Bar Owner Is Santa Barbara County’s First COVID-19 Defier to Be Criminally Charged

It's Pelosi!! And the Jewish space lasers! Buy more guns and buckle up your Bibles kids, the socialists are here to burn all of your flags and Paula Deen cookbooks. Trigger warning: Bernie Sanders and AOC will cancel everything and kill Dr. Seuss. By uhh.... creating affordable healthcare, family tax credits, and more economic stimulus?

Babycakes Apr 07, 2021 12:24 PM
Wine Bar Owner Is Santa Barbara County’s First COVID-19 Defier to Be Criminally Charged

How on earth is "criminally charged" a free pass as suggested? Most likely his business will be supported mightily by those who feel that our governor and both senators have gotten by with flouting the law. The laws....you know, those rules that Newsom, Pelosi, and Feinstein demand that WE follow, but they feel free to wander through airports, hair salons, and eat at restaurants that only the 1-percenters can afford (not that Newsom paid a dime....his "supporters" paid for everything. I bet the beer he sells is mighty cold and mighty tasty!!!

a-1617821318 Apr 07, 2021 11:48 AM
Wine Bar Owner Is Santa Barbara County’s First COVID-19 Defier to Be Criminally Charged

As a small business owner myself, I absolutely empathize with the closure. HOWEVER, it's a slap in the face to every other business that followed the rules for him to do this. I can understand reopening later during the pandemic, but the whole time? That's just ignorant and selfish. I support him being made an example of, especially while our tax dollars are paying for his retirement project.

Voice of Reason Apr 08, 2021 02:18 PM
Wine Bar Owner Is Santa Barbara County’s First COVID-19 Defier to Be Criminally Charged

That is until our own politicians and government go around the rules and laws, which is what they did here in California. I agree with you, our governor doesn't just get to do whatever the eff he wants, his mandates have violated the powers granted to him by the California Constitution and the California Emergency Services Act, and our legislature has been complicit for purely political reasons. Whether you agree with what he has done or not, how Newsom went about it matters because we live together in a society bound by rules and laws.

sacjon Apr 08, 2021 01:48 PM
Wine Bar Owner Is Santa Barbara County’s First COVID-19 Defier to Be Criminally Charged

VOR - I get that, but what about all the other business owners who complied and did their part, all the while losing money? Why is he special? He's not. That's why he's being prosecuted and hopefully fined. We live together in a society bound by rules and laws. You don't get to just do whatever the eff you want because you don't like it.

Voice of Reason Apr 08, 2021 01:41 PM
Wine Bar Owner Is Santa Barbara County’s First COVID-19 Defier to Be Criminally Charged

Sac, you need to appreciate shutting down a side business is one thing, yes you will loose the income. But business owners like this shutting down isn't just the loss of income, it's the continued expenses they need to keep paying even while shut down. Rent (though most landlords have been reasonable), loans, taxes (government shut you down but still wants their money!), utilities, all sucking away what little capital they have. It isn't something they can just shut down and walk away from and start up later.

sacjon Apr 07, 2021 11:53 AM
Wine Bar Owner Is Santa Barbara County’s First COVID-19 Defier to Be Criminally Charged

11:48 - I agree. My family had to completely shut down our side business since last March in order to comply with the restrictions. We lost significant and much needed income as a result. Why should this guy get a free pass while everyone else acted like responsible business owners and citizens even while losing money? Charge his "freedumb" a$$!

CoastWatch Apr 07, 2021 09:29 PM
Wine Bar Owner Is Santa Barbara County’s First COVID-19 Defier to Be Criminally Charged

@ SEABIRD- The problem is that if you or anyone BREAKS the laws that are written, they all need to be enforced... That is the issue. Race, gender, political affiliation or any other distinction does not and should not matter. Who decides who gets to walk away from prosecution, whether that be as little as a citation or prosecuted through the Courts... The laws are written to be followed. If you steal from Home Depot, cross the border without proper and legal paperwork, smuggle drugs into LAX, etc...

Seabird Apr 07, 2021 08:19 PM
Wine Bar Owner Is Santa Barbara County’s First COVID-19 Defier to Be Criminally Charged

@Coastwatch, his was an ongoing, months/year-long, continuous act of blatant disregard, whereas the protesters you speak of were protesting (an act protected by the Constitution which, no, you may NOT pick and choose from) for a few hours with no intent of harm. You Fox News Sheep are all so predictable. Keep making a fool of yourself - we're watching!

Chip of SB Apr 07, 2021 11:20 AM
Wine Bar Owner Is Santa Barbara County’s First COVID-19 Defier to Be Criminally Charged

He may be proven correct that the closure orders were misguided and ineffective. The recent CDC report (see link below) associated the re-opening of indoor dining with up to a 1% increase in new COVID cases and up to a 3% increase in COVID deaths. This is not enough of a difference to justify the harm that has been caused by the closure orders. I hope that this criminal case or others like it result in a precedent setting ruling that dramatically limits the government’s authority to order businesses to close. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/pdfs/mm7010e3-H.pdf

dukemunson Apr 08, 2021 07:46 AM
Wine Bar Owner Is Santa Barbara County’s First COVID-19 Defier to Be Criminally Charged

Chillin - We robbed our kids of a year of school... and when the cdc said we have to open ASAP we didn’t. Trump made tons of mistakes... but in California’s quest to be the anti trump we went so far the other way that we made tons of mistakes. So we got both!!! Winner -winner!! We got the very worst of Trump and the very worst of Newsome!

ChillinGrillin Apr 07, 2021 10:19 PM
Wine Bar Owner Is Santa Barbara County’s First COVID-19 Defier to Be Criminally Charged

Chip: You know what was truly misguided and ineffective? Sticking our heads in the sand and doing nothing, pretending the problem didn't exist. Local and state leaders did the best they could with little to no national leadership. The ship was bumping along on the rocks for almost an entire year led by the simpleminded carnival barker we had the misfortune to call our president. In the absence of ANY competent national leadership, local and state authorities were faced with a crisis that they were unequipped and ill-suited for. It's easy to be a Monday morning quarterback but most state and local leaders did the best they could with the resources and knowledge of the virus that they had. If any mistakes were made, it was due to the feds being no-shows for a crisis that the former president compared to World War 2.

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