Police arrested at least a half-dozen people on Thursday night for violating the City of Key West’s New Year’s Eve curfew, including prominent restaurateur Joe Walsh.

Walsh has been a vocal opponent of several city COVID-19 restrictions and recently spoke at a Key West City Commission meeting against requiring people to wear masks.

Walsh and the others were cited with a misdemeanor count of violating an emergency management directive. Walsh and the others were processed, which included having their mugshots taken, at the jail on Stock Island.

Walsh sent Key West City Manager Greg Veliz an email Thursday stating he was not going to close and cited some legal citations, Veliz said.

“He said it was not a real law,” Veliz said.

Walsh’s bar and restaurant, Fogarty’s, was the only business that did not comply with the city’s curfew directive, which requires non-essential businesses to close at 10 p.m. every night through Sunday. Veliz spoke with Walsh in front of his business on New Year’s Eve, telling him he needed to close and he did not have to be arrested, Veliz said.

“I told him it didn’t have to be this way,” Veliz said. “I turned around and next thing I know he was in handcuffs. It was unfortunate.”

In addition to Fogarty’s being forced to shut down, a small protest broke out on New Year’s Eve on Duval Street shortly after 10 p.m., which was the time of the city’s nightly curfew this weekend.

Tourists were also telling Veliz that they didn’t have to abide by the curfew.

“I had people telling me they come to Key West because there is no rules. That is the problem,” Veliz said. “Times Square in New York City was closed off and they are telling me Duval Street doesn’t apply.”

Police were called in to clear Duval Street and conduct crowd control. The street was cleared by 11:10 p.m., Veliz said.

Walsh was arrested at 12:49 a.m. on New Year’s Day at Fogarty’s. His arraignment is scheduled for Jan. 14. 

Walsh told The Citizen on Friday he plans to plead not guilty and fight the charge.

He said the curfew violates the governor's order prohibiting local governments from enforcing local COVID-19 restrictions. He also said the mayor's directive is not legal because the entire city commission did not vote on the curfew. 

tohara@keysnews.com