Hundreds of complaints of packed bars, clubs over Memorial Day weekend; zero citations issued

Packed bars and pool parties seen in viral social media video over Memorial Day weekend has sparked concern among Houston leaders. Hundreds of complaints were filed over the three-day weekend, but zero citations were issued for any business that appeared to violate Governor Abbott's 25% capacity restriction. 

Houston 3-1-1 and the Harris County Fire Marshals Office collectively received nearly 1,400 complaints from Friday through Monday, but no citations were issued by either.

Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena said the preferred method from city officials is to begin with education and voluntary compliance.

"The vast majority if not all of them have been handled through voluntary compliance. In 566 complaints this weekend, we haven't issued any citations," Pena said.

Since the stay-home order began two months ago, Pena said HFD has responded to more than 5000 complaints, but only 10 citations have been issued-- none since May 9th.

"As of May 9 we stopped issuing any citations or notices a violation that was as a result of our enforcement efforts that resulted in two lawsuits for the city of Houston. We didn't feel that we got the support and defending those lawsuits from the state. So at that point, the decision was made to not expend any resources in the enforcement," Pena said. 

Although Mayor Turner has since reversed his decision to allow firefighters to issue citations, Chief Pena said the department does not have the resources to patrol these business. Instead, HFD will only deploy their firefighters when complaints are issued and citations are reserved for repeat offenders.  

"Once we go there we address the issue, then we won't harass anybody unless we get additional complaints to go back and check," Pena said. 

Pena is also encouraging patrons to use their own discretion when visiting businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

"If you go to these businesses that seem to be overcrowded, that doesn't seem like it's safe -- then you have the discretion not to not to frequent those places and find somewhere else.

"To the business owners, I recommend that they do their part again because the goal is to try to keep them open. And make sure they're providing a safe environment that keeps your customers coming back," Pena said.

Mayor Sylvester Turner is now urging anyone who stepped foot at any overcrowded business to get tested.

"If you were for example at a large gathering and people were not social distancing or they didn’t have a face covering on, and I mean you were jammed in packed, close with one another -- it would be advisable to get tested at one of the 27 free public testing sites at the city of Houston," Turner said. 

FOX 26 reached out to one of the owners of Clé for comment, but he declined to speak on camera with us.