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Two Women Charged for Refusing to Wear a Mask Inside Costa Mesa Grocery Store

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Southern California resident Marianne Campbell Smith was found guilty of misdemeanor, trespassing and obstruction of a business or its customers on Oct. 20. Smith is the first person to go on trial in Orange County for refusing to obey face-covering mandates at a local business. 

Smith, 57, was taken into custody at Mother’s Market in Costa Mesa, the location of a protest against California’s mask mandate on Aug. 15, 2020. 

An OC Superior Court jury took roughly an hour to consider both the rights of a business to enforce its policies and whether Smith’s refusal to comply was done with intentions to interfere. 

Judge John Zitny sentenced Smith to 40 hours of community service and one year of informal probation. Smith was also ordered to pay a $200 fine and to refrain from ever entering the Costa Mesa Mother’s Market again.

According to prosecutors, Smith “turned down a pre-trial diversion offer that would have led to the charges being dismissed if Smith completed 10 hours of community service.”

Eric Katz, manager of the store at the time of the incident, testified that Smith was joined by two other women who were also maskless, and that the three continuously ignored him when they were asked to either put on masks or leave the store. 

The women reportedly entered the store with signs bearing anti-mask sentiments, such as “Healthy people do not wear masks” and “Economic Health = Public Health.” Smith allegedly harassed an elderly customer, telling him “You don’t have to be scared, it’s all a lie.” 

Other protesters then entered the store, prompting employees to lock the doors and escort customers to the exit. Smith reportedly attempted to purchase a salad and a bag of chips, but was met with refusal from the cashier.

Smith left $5 at the register and tried to leave upon police presence at the store. She and one of the other two women, Jennfier Marie Sterling, were arrested. The third is thought to have left the store before the police’s arrival.

“I’m innocent,” Smith said while leaving the courthouse. “Even though the verdict was guilty, I committed no crimes except to be able to breathe oxygen. I have a medical disability, and it was not honored at Mother’s Market that day.”

Employees had reportedly offered to shop for Smith, but she declined. 

Sterling, 56, was ordered to donate $50 to a COVID response fund for nurses, as per Orange County Superior Court records. 

“The defendant wanted to make this about masks and freedom. This trial was about a private business and workers just trying to comply with health orders,” OC District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a statement read during Smith’s sentencing. “As the DA, we protected private property rights. Nothing more.”

“This thing is all political — if Mrs. Smith wouldn’t wear a mask, then charge her with that crime,” Smith’s attorney Frederick Fascenelli said to jurors.

The city of Costa Mesa has required the usage of face masks since April 2020. 

“This is a case about a woman and her friends trying to make a point, trying to get some attention,” Assistant DA Susan Price said in a closing statement. 

Veronica Garza is a City News Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. She can be reached at garzavc@uci.edu.