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WA state employees enforcing COVID rules face threats from armed groups

A table stands empty at a permanently closed restaurant in Manhattan. Restaurants in Washington state are currently permitted to serve takeout, but are not allowed to offer indoor dining due to COVID-19. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Twice now, Washington state employees trying to enforce COVID rules have faced threats from citizens with guns. Mike Yestramski, president of the Washington Federation of State Employees, worries someone will be injured or killed.

Yestramski told KIRO Radio that one inspector from the Department of Labor & Industries did not feel safe returning for a follow-up visit to Spiffy’s Restaurant in Chehalis after a confrontation last week.

Spiffy’s Restaurant in Chehalis open despite pressure from state officials

“After that L&I inspector was met by armed protesters who threatened — and I use the word protesters lightly — who threatened to do them harm, that person did not come back for the follow-up inspection,” Yestramski said.

KIRO Radio called the restaurant Monday, and verified it is continuing to defy the current rules and serve meals indoors.

In the Tri-Cities, a group tracked a state liquor enforcer to his home, upset that he was trying to enforce a shut down of a local bar that’s also defying orders by serving indoor diners. Yestramski says the group threatened the man with violence and with a firearm.

“They went to the officer’s home with a large group of heavily armed individuals, protesting and harassing that officer and their family,” he added.

Yestramski also says some in the confrontational crowds have connections to violent vigilante groups, including the militants who tried to kidnap Michigan’s governor, and those who took over a federal property in Oregon four years ago.

Gov. Inslee bans indoor gatherings, dining as part of new COVID-19 restrictions

People who want to push back on coronavirus restrictions need to work with their elected officials, Yestramski says, instead of going after state employees.

The union president says he has reached out to the governor’s office asking for help finding ways to keep state employees safe while they investigate and enforce COVID-19 measures.

“Follow-up will have to take different forms than it maybe traditionally would,” Yestramski said.

KIRO Radio’s Diane Duthweiler contributed to this report.

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