BERNARDSVILLE, NJ -- The borough of Bernardsville and the police department both have temporarily disabled access to their respective Facebook pages.
The moves came in response to a litany of incendiary comments on both pages in response to the citation of the owner of the Country Home crafts and gift shop in Olcott Square.
"We were receiving harassing comments following the incident with the owner of Country Home," Bernardsville Mayor Mary Jane Canose said.
Katherine Hermes, owner of Country Home, was displaying her merchandise in her store to a live Facebook audience Tuesday evening when a Bernardsville police officer came to the front door and informed her she would have to close up for the night because she was in violation of the governor's 8 p.m. curfew for businesses.
The Bernardsville Police Department received another complaint regarding business operations at the Country Home store. The caller specifically stated that there were shoppers in the store. Officer Tyler Demott responded to the store and found that Hermes and another employee were holding a Facebook Live sale from inside the store. There were no customers observed to be inside the store. Following a discussion with the store owner Hermes was not charged with any violations related to that specific complaint.
Bernardsville Police Chief Kevin Valentine stated that the “police department has been monitoring all essential and non-essential business operations in the borough for compliance with emergency executive orders. The members of the police department are sympathetic to the difficulties facing our community and officers try to solicit compliance with executive orders that are in place to protect the health and safety of all citizens. When a complaint is made we investigate it and take action.” Valentine said that “most businesses are cooperative and try to comply with the guidance provided in the executive orders. However, if we observe blatant violations in defiance of orders, especially after warnings are issued, the appropriate summonses will be issued.”
Last Saturday afternoon, the Bernardsville Police Department received a complaint regarding ongoing business operations at Country Home Store. Later that day, the Bernardsville Police Department received second complaint related to ongoing business operations at the same location that were reported to be in violation of executive orders for nonessential business operations. After receiving the second complaint, Officer Steven Seiple and Chief Valentine responded to the business to investigate the complaint. They determined that the store was open for retail operations and was operating in violation of Executive Orders regarding nonessential business operations. Hermes was advised by officers of the provisions of the executive orders governing businesses that restricted retail store operations at the present time. They told her that curbside delivery of retail goods would be commencing soon and that her business could soon operate according to the provisions of that new executive order. Hermes was ordered to cease her current retail operations and requested to comply with executive orders.
Hermes opened her store in Bernardsville last October, five months before all non-essential businesses in New Jersey were shut down by a mandate from Governor Phil Murphy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She has since closed her other business in Chester and only recently reopened the doors of her Bernardsville store to customers.
"I closed my store in Chester when the lease was up, but I was going to continue in Bernardsville," Hermes said. "I didn't even enter this space for 60 days, and when I saw other stores doing live webcasts, I thought that was a good idea, so I started doing one of my own three weeks ago."
The live-streamed incident Tuesday night in Hermes' store went viral and has been viewed across the nation on the Internet. Her interaction with Bernardsville police was the subject of commentary by radio host Ken Matthews Friday afternoon. Matthews was filling in on Rush Limbaugh's highly rated, nationally syndicated afternoon radio show.
Earlier on Tuesday, Hermes was charged with a disorderly persons offense specifically by “opening a non-essential retail store to the public in violation of paragraph 9A of Executive Order #142”.
"The responses to this matter have ranged from extreme hate speech, subtle threats, foul language, harassing phone calls and complaints being directed towards the police department, and individuals that have publicly commented in support of us,'' Valentine said of the comments on Facebook. "We have had to take down our Facebook page as a result and our phone lines have been tied up with harassing calls over the last 48 hours.''