From Henry County Enterprise
By Debbie Hall and Brandon Martin
A popular Martinsville eatery closed briefly this month in what some have called a raid.
However, “this was not a situation where we raided a business,” Martinsville Deputy Police Chief Robert Fincher said of the incident at El Norteno Mexican Restaurant.
The incident began at 9:45 p.m. on Oct. 9, Fincher said, and explained an environmental manager with the local Virginia Department of Health office stopped by the restaurant, located at 730 E. Church St., in the Patrick Henry Mall.
Following a conversation with the health official, the management temporarily closed the eatery, Fincher said.
Nancy Bell, public information officer for the West Piedmont Department of Health, said “It’s a popular business and sometimes he gets more customers than he can handle, so we’ve been trying to help him out.”
After leaving the restaurant, the health official encountered an officer with the Martinsville Police Department in the parking lot of the shopping center, Fincher said.
“The officer was patrolling through the parking due to past issues of loitering in the parking lots of the shopping center,” Fincher said. The health official “informed our officer that he had closed the restaurant temporarily. The officer took no action with the restaurant, but continued to inform people that they cannot loiter in the parking lot.”
The health official then approached a second officer, also informing him the restaurant was temporarily shut down, Fincher said.
“That officer took similar action as the first. At no time did officers enter the restaurant and tell anyone that they needed to leave. After some time had passed, one officer” entered the restaurant and “asked a manager if they were ok. Upon hearing that they were, the officer left the restaurant,” Fincher wrote in a release.
“Approximately 30 minutes later, and after the restaurant workers had closed, three of our officers had to inform a couple of groups that they could not loiter in the parking lot,” Fincher said. “No arrests were made and no confrontations occurred.”
Fincher said issues between a restaurant and health officials are considered civil matters, and “law enforcement is very limited as to what we can do.”
Bell said the restaurant has reopened. She added the health official followed up the next day, and found the restaurant “in full compliance.”
The police department’s Mobile Command Center also was reported at the scene, Fincher said.
However, the vehicle, a 1990 Winnebago, had been parked in the lot more than two weeks before the incident, at the request of another business that also is located in the Patrick Henry Mall.
“There was no shut down and there was no raid,” Bell said. “I don’t know how you define a raid but I wouldn’t consider a conversation with management as a raid.”
The restaurant is open.