FAYETTEVILLE -- A maskless fan arrested at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in November after police said he was disorderly has pleaded guilty to violating a governor's executive order that required the wearing of face coverings.
Seth Pitts, 31, of Lincoln, must pay a $500 fine and $120 in court costs after pleading guilty Wednesday, according to the city prosecutor Brian Thomas.
Pitts had been scheduled for trial Wednesday in Fayetteville District Court after police issued him misdemeanor citations for disorderly conduct and obstructing governmental operations. He was also issued a criminal trespass citation.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson ended the statewide mask mandate on March 30, but face coverings continue to be required to attend University of Arkansas, Fayetteville athletic events.
Hutchinson put the statewide mandate in place in July as a health measure to try to slow the spread of covid-19. It required face coverings to be worn in most settings where physical distancing of 6 feet was not assured.
The university has "widely communicated" the masking requirement to fans, UA spokesman Kevin Trainor has said.
Police on Nov. 21 confronted Pitts twice over his failure to wear a face covering. UA police spokesman Capt. Gary Crain said in December that officers arrested Pitts because of his behavior after being told of the mask requirement rather than because he wasn't wearing one.
In a written statement to the Democrat-Gazette, Pitts said: "I do take responsibility for breaking the mask mandate that was effective at the time. Media and law enforcement portrays that I was arrested for other reasons, but majority would agree it was because I was not wearing a mask." He said he was thankful that the charges against him had been dropped.
He also stated that he wants to "support others across the nation who have been put in my position, being publicly criticized or legally punished."
"I worry for the rights of Arkansas citizens. I worry for the future of independent thinking and common sense. I worry about those who have been brave enough to stand up for themselves and have been labeled a criminal," Pitts said. "This is happening across the country. Be brave, respectfully express your opinion. I do feel that individuals such as myself are the silent majority. We must get loud."
Officer body camera video shows Pitts initially trying to enter the stadium without a face covering despite a police officer telling him of the mask requirement. He then puts one on to enter but ignores a police request that he wait so a commanding officer can speak to him.
Body-camera footage then shows Pitts in a stadium stairwell without a mask less than five minutes after he had entered the stadium, according to the video's time stamp.
An officer tells Pitts he is being ejected from the stadium. Pitts asks why and is told he isn't following the requirement to wear a mask. He then puts the mask back on.
"OK, so you ask me to put it back on, I put it back on now," Pitts states.
"So are we going to do it all night?" another officer asks.
"I guess," Pitts says.
Pitts does not provide identification when asked to do so and soon after is placed in handcuffs.
At the time of the arrest, police did not formally cite Pitts for violating the governor's executive order. It's unclear how many times statewide a violation resulted in a fine or even if other fines have been issued.
The executive order prohibited police from arresting anyone simply for not wearing a mask.
Police issued the misdemeanor citations to Pitts and told him he was barred from the campus for one year.
Disorderly conduct in Arkansas is a Class C misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail.
Pitts, in his statement, disputed a portion of the police report describing his behavior before entering the stadium.
"To clarify, I did not 'flip off' a staff member at the entrance. This false claim was documented in the police report," Pitts said.