Costa Mesa – District attorney's investigators Wednesday arrested seven members of Piecemakers Country Store - a religion-based, commune-type business - after the workers refused to allow Orange County health officials to inspect the group's restaurant.
Health Care Agency officials, the investigators and Costa Mesa police officers arrived with an inspection warrant about 11:30a.m.
Floor manager Linda Ryan would not allow the authorities to enter the Adams Street business, despite the court order.
The leading officer gently pushed her aside and started making his way to the kitchen to open the back door, Ryan said, and about 20 members of the group stood in his way. The officer pushed his way through, opened the back door, and let the delegation in, Ryan said.
"We felt violated," said sales clerk Joanna Nelson, 50. "It was like an invasion."
The investigators and police officers were there because inspectors had previously been denied access to the group's kitchen, and the health agency needed to make sure the food Piecemakers sells is safe, District Attorney spokesman Mark Macaulay said.
Authorities arrested Piecemakers founder and leader Marie Kolasinski, 84, after she tried to force an inspector's thermometer out of a pot of soup. Then a fracas broke out, and four more women and two men were arrested. No one was seriously injured.
Macaulay said these people were arrested on suspicion of the following crimes: Kolasinski, assault; Kathleen Louise Needham, obstruction of justice; Douglas Dorsey Follette, assault; Deborah Lindsey Scherfee, obstruction of justice; Kerry Lyn Parker, assault; Judy Marie Haeger, battery and John Fredrick Ready, obstruction of justice. All were released on bail.
Several of the members, who say they are devout followers of Jesus Christ, continuously yelled profanities at the officials during the incident.
"We have to use language like that because these people don't have consciences, and those words wake them up and scare them a little," Kolasinski said. "They are like an octopus squeezing the life out of the middle class."
The Health Care Agency acquired the warrant from a judge after Piecemakers employees denied inspectors access to the kitchen Oct. 6, agency spokesman Howard Sutter said. The agency has had trouble gaining access to the kitchen several times since 1995, he said.
Piecemakers' food service permit allows the group to sell only pre-packaged food, not to run a restaurant, Sutter said.
The group prepares and serves hot food in a restaurant setting, but claims the government cannot regulate their business, based on Fourth Amendment rights.
"We don't let the inspectors in because they try to enforce codes, written by some idiot, that don't help (anyone)," Kolasinski said. "We say, 'Give me liberty or give me death.'"
Piecemakers says the county has a vendetta against the group because the members stand up for their rights instead of just giving in.
The Health Care Agency inspects all food businesses in the county, Sutter said. The agency's report on Wednesday's inspection is not finished.
The 24 members of the group share profits, ownership, and responsibilities of the business, which mainly sells quilting supplies and original calendars in the store and through distributors. Founded in 1978, the group also runs a hair salon upstairs and offers custom interior and furniture design and construction services.
The group has had a history of trouble with the city and the county, including several misdemeanor citations. In 2000, members settled two libel lawsuits filed against them by county health inspectors.
"This is all about freedom to conduct our lives, serve the Lord, make a living and serve the community without government intervention," Nelson said.