Judge issues restraining order against Grantsville coronavirus protest concert but organizers vow to fight on

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) About 1,000 people defied COVID-19 restriction to protest them at Salt Lake City Hall on April 18. The same organizers plan a protest concert in Grantsville on Saturday, but a judge has issued a temporary restraining order against it.

After organizers vowed to proceed with a free concert to openly defy and protest state COVID-19 restrictions despite a Tooele County Health Department order banning it, a judge issued a temporary restraining order to stop the event with country star Collin Raye.

Concert organizer Eric Moutsos still says he plans to proceed anyway for now — at least pending an evidentiary hearing on Friday about whether to make the restraining order permanent.

Third District Court Judge Dianna M. Gibson issued the temporary restraining order late Wednesday and said the county will likely prevail for a permanent order after the evidentiary hearing on Friday.

“Utah law is clear. Utah’s state and local government have the authority to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens,” she wrote.

“Defendants have publicly represented they intend to move forward with the event in clear violation of local licensing and permitting requirements and in spite of Utah and Tooele County’s health directives. Defendants’ position does not appear to be supported by law,” she added.

The judge also said any losses by concert organizers pale compared to the potential health risks created.

Any such losses do “not justify defendants’ acts of defiance against state, country and local health department directives and it does not outweigh the damage resulting from the number of citizens who possibly could be exposed to and infected by COVID-19.”

The temporary order is against both Moutsos and Jason Manning, owner of the Amphitheater at Studio Ranch near Grantsville, the concert venue. It has a capacity of about 10,000 people. State directives generally ban mass gatherings of more than 50 people currently.

Moutsos, who leads a group called Utah Business Revival, was at the amphitheater Thursday continuing preparations for the concert. “I plan on moving forward,” he said by telephone. “We’re just seeing how far governments are willing to go to stop people’s freedoms.”

He added, “I think it’s really alarming that government has gone to this length to try and stop small businesses in Utah when they’re allowing places like Lagoon to be open. The hypocrisy makes me sad.”

He said about 100 businesses, which had been closed during stay-at-home orders, have signed up for booths to promote their products and services at the concert.

Paxton Guymon, attorney for Manning and the amphitheater, argued in written filings that a restraining order would violate citizens’ right to assemble and protest as guaranteed by the U.S. and state constitutions.

“Manning and the Venue want to host an event that will encourage people to attend and enjoy an outdoor concert, show their support for Utah Business Revival, exercise their freedom of speech and right to assemble, and help small businesses,” he wrote. “In America, these are the kinds of activities on which our Country was founded, and that is why the right to peaceably assemble is protected.”

Moutsos moved the planned concert to Grantsville after an attempt to hold it in a Kaysville city park created a political firestorm there.

Mayor Katie Witt — who is running for Congress in the 1st District — supported and praised the protest concert planned initially for a park there. She said she saw that as a move to protect the right to protest, while others, including some residents, said it would recklessly endanger public health.

The Kaysville City Council revolted against the mayor, and told Moutsos it would turn on sprinklers during the park concert and would cut power there. It also passed a resolution denouncing the concert and the mayor’s actions to support it. Moutsos moved the concert saying sprinklers would ruin concert equipment.