Key West’s Duval Street has been crowded with masked and unmasked visitors. Police, including Officer William Howell, have been handing out free masks to those without the required face coverings. LARRY BLACKBURN/Keys Weekly

Key West code and police officers, as well as some restaurant and retail employees, have been verbally abused, obscenely harassed and spat upon in the past week. One teen-aged boy purposely and repeatedly coughed on two code compliance officers Saturday, when they asked the teen and his parents to put on their masks.

The officers had already asked the father once, and when they asked his son and wife to do the same, the father screamed at code officers Rachel Kobylas and Sophia Doctoche, “F***ING ASK NICELY!”

The family repeatedly refused to show the officers their identification and verbally berated them. 

“(The father) began further profanely shouting at myself and Officer Doctoche,” Kobylas wrote in her report. “His teenage son and his family joined in with this terrifically negative verbose abuse.  We asked for IDs again, they refused. … We then followed them from a safe social distance, at which point the son of unknown age, took his mask off and began coughing on us, along with more profanities and law enforcement slurs. 

“The family walked into the parking garage and began to scatter as we called Key West Police  for backup. They left the teenager behind and he stayed there right up until (police) arrived, at which point he took off running and left the area immediately.”

In addition to code compliance officers, Key West Police also are tasked with mask enforcement, and earlier this week were “cross-designated” as code officers, so they can issue and enforce civil citations as well as criminal citations, City Manager Greg Veliz said.

“This was done for an indefinite period of time, but it’s not going to be a ‘forever and beyond’ situation,” Veliz told Keys Weekly on June 30. He added that the cross-designation applies to all sworn Key West police officers. They will not receive additional pay for the cross-designation, Veliz said.

In an effort to protect the public’s health, control crowds and ensure safe social distances, police have been closing Duval Street to vehicular traffic in the evening and handing out free masks to pedestrians without them.

With Florida bars prohibited from selling alcohol, more people are congregating on the sidewalks, city spokeswoman Alyson Crean said. 

“Closing Duval Street to cars allows more space for people to spread out safely,” she said.

Code compliance officers, during the day on June 27, issued 16 verbal warnings to business owners and employees throughout town, including restaurants and retail shops, according to records from the city’s Code Compliance department.

Those records also show that on the night of June 27 and in the daytime on June 28, code officers issued 35 verbal warnings, two citations and asked one downtown bar that was “open and actively selling mixed drinks in sealed containers” to cease its operation, according to department reports.

“Our concern is for the health, safety and well-being of our beautiful community and this tiny island we call home. We will continue to do our best to protect it,” Kobylas wrote.

On a lighter note, masks were in place and only Starbucks coffee and sparkling water were being sold in the Cabaret at The 801 Bar, which hosted alcohol-free drag shows over the weekend.

“People were so nice,” co-owner Jim Gilleran said. “They were so grateful to have something to do, and I can’t say enough good things about the city’s police and code officers. We invited them in to take photos to show that we weren’t selling alcohol. It worked out great and we were able to put Sushi and the 801 Girls back to work.”

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