On July 31, as most Angelenos were settling in for another Friday night of quarantine at home, an estimated 100 to 150 people were getting together at Sassafras Saloon in Hollywood for a night of drinking and dancing. One source who spoke to the Los Angeles Times on the condition of anonymity said it was booked as a private party involving the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department. Likewise, several arriving guests were captured on video saying “yes” when asked if they were there for the “LASD party.”
Indoor service at restaurants and on-premises service at bars was shut down most recently on June 28 amid L.A.’s surge in COVID-19 infections; large social gatherings have remained banned since March. Photos and videos of the event appear to show most attendees neither distancing nor wearing masks.
Now, the Los Angeles Times reports, Dr. Barbara Ferrer has announced that the Department of Public Health is investigating the incident, along with the Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control and the Los Angeles Police Department.
“We are investigating reports of a private indoor party and remind all businesses that have been ordered to close indoor operations that there are no exceptions,” a representative for the health department told CNN. “This is exactly the situation that puts our entire community at risk.”
Word of the party first began to spread in social media posts from Knock.LA, a project of the community activist organization Ground Game L.A.
We found out the LA's Sheriff's Department (@LASDHQ) was having a party tonight at @SassafrasHW in Hollywood. Several men we believe to be deputies identified themselves by name and verbally confirmed they were attending an LASD function. pic.twitter.com/OQRcPDvGlk
— KNOCK.LA (@KNOCKdotLA) August 1, 2020
Knock.LA states that they first observed guests arriving at Sassafras Saloon around 8 p.m., initially being ushered into the venue through a side door. Upon peering inside, they claim to have seen “a packed indoor club, loud music, drinking, dancing, and not a mask visible.”
Cerise Castle, a journalist with public radio station KCRW, also investigated the event. While there, she documented individuals who identified themselves by names she says match those of current law enforcement officers drinking outside of the venue and leaving trash on the street.
With COVID-19 outbreaks documented to be spreading rapidly inside correctional facilities, correctional officers would be among those most likely to be exposed to the virus. As of mid-June, 2,585 inmates and 335 LASD staff were known to have tested positive.
On the night of the party, a CNN reporter went to the bar and spoke to a guest who claimed that the attendees were not worried about potential exposure.
“Everybody is either family or works at the same place so that’s why we don’t have COVID concerns. They micro-group or whatever with each other and everyone’s been tested and everything. That’s why we all know that everyone in there is cool,” the guest claimed.
When pressed on the matter, the individual asked the reporter, “If you’re so concerned, why don’t you call the police?”
That guest was later identified to CNN as a current officer in the LAPD Southwest Division.
A spokesperson for 1933 Group, which owns Sassafras Saloon, asserts that the LASD dud not organize the party, and that management was told it would be an event to “celebrate first responders.” Because the venue has a full kitchen, it qualifies to be open for patio dining service, and, they say, management was under the impression that it would be a small group enjoying their drinks and food outdoors.
“We did everything possible to provide our staff and guests with ample outdoor spaces that completely adhered to current safety precautions and social distancing expectations,” the spokesperson told the Times. “Unfortunately, there were a number of guests that did not comply. We unequivocally do not condone this behavior and have no intention of agreeing to additional private events, charitable or otherwise, until the state allows.”
The LASD denies any official connection to the event, and has stated that any identification of individuals at the event as linked to the department are “categorically false” and part of a “hoax perpetrated by social activists.”
*Update* Reports of LASD hosting a party in Hollywood, as well as the reporting of several individuals who were identified as LASD personnel in attendance, are categorically false and appear to be a hoax perpetrated by social activists.
— LA County Sheriffs (@LASDHQ) August 3, 2020