Kelly Sills paid a small fortune for an enchanting trip to “the most magical place on Earth.”
Instead, the Baton Rouge resident — like several other Disney World guests who have defied coronavirus restrictions — visited the Orange County jail.
Amid heightened precautions for the virus at the major Florida tourist attraction, Sills, 47, skipped the temperature screening required of guests, authorities said. He was confronted by security about it at a Disney Springs restaurant, the Boathouse, when he yelled and refused to leave, according to an Orange County Sheriff’s Office arrest report from Feb. 13. When deputies insisted he would be charged with trespassing, he pointed to how much he spent on his vacation, according to body-camera footage released this week.
“I paid $15,000,” said Sills, handcuffed. “You can’t trespass me if I paid $15,000.”
He pleaded not guilty to a trespassing charge, according to Orange County court records.
In an interview Saturday with The Washington Post, Sills said he would have “happily” consented to a temperature screening but he had inadvertently walked in through an exit and not realized his error. He partly blamed the security manager for escalating the conflict — and compared Disney security to Nazis and the mafia — but also admitted he was in “a bit of a mood” after a day of travel.
He was arrested on the first night of what was a five-day trip with his family, a rare reprieve for which he had paid thousands, he said. Two hotel rooms, air travel and admission to Disney and Universal for seven to eight people set him back, he said.
“Covid is a very serious thing, but so is my vacation with my family,” he said.
Sills’s arrest, first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, is not the first instance guests have been reprimanded over defying coronavirus restrictions at a Disney park. The newspaper reported several skirmishes have stemmed from angry refusals to follow the theme park’s rules, including guests spitting on, yelling at and pushing employees tasked with reminding visitors to follow restrictions instated to curb the spread of the deadly virus.
The confrontations at Disney World come as other parts of Florida have had to ramp up enforcement when rowdy tourists flocked to the state that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has promoted as less restrictive. While spring break revelers descended on South Florida, DeSantis praised how busy the area was compared with cities in other states with stricter coronavirus guidelines, such as New York City. He has touted the state’s distribution of vaccine doses and argued it is safe to visit.
“It’s booming here because you can live like a human being,” he said at a February press event. “People take precautions, which is great, but you’re not locked down. People aren’t miserable.”
But some local leaders said the “open for business” message that endorses fewer rules could lead to “chaos.”
Disney spokeswoman Andrea Finger said conflicts over coronavirus rules are uncommon, with most guests following the requirements shared with them before they travel. Disney requires guests to stay home if they have symptoms, wear masks for if they are ages 2 and up, and undergo temperature checks at some entries.
“Guests have been overwhelmingly supportive of our protocols,” she wrote in a statement. “Millions of Guests visit our theme parks each year and in rare instances when things of this nature occur, we hold them accountable.”
In the body-camera footage, Sills expressed disbelief that Disney was requiring a temperature check as deputies walked him to a patrol car.
“I’m so ready to be done with this covid,” he told deputies at another point.
As deputies escorted Sills past families and others strolling through the park, he had a change of heart, wanting to undergo a temperature screening.
“Will you take my temperature before you kick me out, please?” he asked in the video.
“They’ll do that at the jail,” a deputy responded.
“Well, that’s good,” Sills said.