BY JOSH FRIEDMAN
The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office filed criminal charges against a former San Luis Obispo police sergeant for allegedly violating coronavirus health orders, setting up a possible court battle between prosecutors and a sitting California assemblyman.
Prosecutors charged Kurt Hixenbaugh, the co-owner of a wine bar in Orcutt, with four misdemeanors. The charges include two counts of failing to obey a stay-at-home order and two counts of failing to file a public health report, Hixenbaugh stated in a video uploaded to YouTube on Tuesday.
Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo), who is a practicing attorney, has agreed to defend Hixenbaugh in court. Both Hixenbaugh and Cunningham have been outspoken critics of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s coronavirus orders.
Hixenbaugh, who served on the San Luis Obispo force for more than a decade and as recently as 2018, co-owns and operates Vino et Amicis in Old Town Orcutt. During the recent statewide stay-at-home order issued by Newsom, Hixenbaugh refused to shut down Vino et Amicis.
If convicted of the misdemeanors, Hixenbaugh would face up to six months in county jail and/or a $1,000 fine for each of the charges.
Beginning late last year, Hixenbaugh posted multiple videos on YouTube announcing his wine bar was defying Gov. Gavin Newsom’s shutdown order and encouraging other businesses to do the same.
Hixenbaugh took issue with Newsom including San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties in the Southern California region. He also argued that businesses following coronavirus reopening protocols, like operating at partial capacity and requiring masks and social distancing, was enough and that there was not justification for shutting down bars and restaurants.
In a video posted on Feb. 10, Hixenbaugh announced he was changing the name of a beer served at Vino et Amicis from “F-Covid” to “Defiance.”
“Come on down and have a glass of defiance. Freedom’s delicious,” Hixenbaugh said in the video.
“That’s what I want to encourage all of my fellow business owners to do out there,” he added. “There’s freedom in defiance. Now I’m not suggesting that we go out and break all the laws and just let everybody in and have a wild, good old time. Be smart. Be safe. Follow all of the laws we followed before in the past. But the boot that’s on our throat from Sacramento is killing our businesses, and we need to stand up to that. We need to unite and stand up against that.”
Santa Barbara County prosecutors filed the criminal complaint against Hixenbaugh after the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) conducted an investigation into the wine bar. ABC could also decide to revoke the business’s alcohol license.
Hixenbaugh is the first person to face criminal charges in Santa Barbara County for violating coronavirus orders. Santa Barbara County authorities had previously filed several civil cases against gyms that refused to close when ordered to do so.
A GoFundMe titled Vino Et Amicis Legal Defense Fund has already raised more than $2,000.
In a Facebook post sharing the GoFundMe, the wine bar stated, “We are not going to roll over and let Sacramento and our county bully us into submission. We are going to lead the way. We are going to fight. We are going to prevail. Help us fight for freedom.”
Hixenbaugh is scheduled to appear in Santa Maria Superior Court on April 29 for an arraignment hearing.