North Carolina Sheriffs: It’s not our job to enforce the governor’s ‘mask orders’ – they are ‘not constitutional’

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CHARLOTTE, NC – Do it yourself.

That’s essentially the message that a group of sheriffs in North Carolina are sending to the governor over what they believe are unconstitutional mask orders.

Across the country, a number of governors have issued Executive Orders mandating the use of masks while in the public. 

The majority of these orders specify that persons who cannot be a minimum of six feet apart and indoors must wear a mask or face a fine or imprisonment.  No one disputes that the numbers of positive cases have grown recently, but there is dispute as to what those numbers really mean. 

Some believe that the states and/or federal government is skewing the numbers. 

One one side, some believe the numbers are worse than what we know of and we are not told the true amount for fear of sparking nationwide panic. 

On the other side, some argue the actual number of infected persons is significantly lower than what is provided and that they are using antibody tests as positive cases.  Those suggest that the numbers are inflated in order to keep the economy slowed or shut down in order for democrats to remain in power. 

There is an old cop saying that pertains to these theories – in every story there are three sides, his side, her side, and the truth.  This means that the truth is probably somewhere in the middle of the two arguments, but we may never know.

Regardless of the debate, the Governor of North Carolina feels that face masks need to be worn by people in certain circumstances. 

The question that the executive order has raised is simple – is it enforceable by law enforcement?  Several elected Sheriffs in North Carolina do not believe that it is and have gone on record advising that they will not enforce the order. 

The sheriffs have stated that they believe that wearing of a mask is a personal choice rather than something that can be ordered. 

It is their belief that enforcing someone to wear a mask is unconstitutional, and therefore, not enforceable by law enforcement. 

Sheriff Jimmy Thornton from Sampson County stated in a Facebook post:

“As Sheriff, it is my sworn duty to enforce laws enacted by our legislature, as well as protect the constitutional rights of all citizens.

It is my belief that Governor Cooper’s executive order mandating face coverings by all citizens in public is not only unconstitutional, but unenforceable. My deputies will NOT enforce an executive order that I feel violates the constitutional liberties of citizens.

The number of cases in Sampson County are reflecting higher than other counties in our State. I do encourage and trust that all citizens will take it upon themselves to carry out the necessary precautions to ensure the safety and protection of themselves and those that surround them.

I am not encouraging negligence, but I would like to reiterate that it is not the Sheriff’s duty to enforce health related mandates unless court ordered by a Judicial Official or the Legislature.”

There were at least ten Sheriffs who agreed with this sentiment and issued similar statements.

Many in law enforcement in North Carolina believe that any order which can be enforced through citations or arrest must be passed by the Council of State.  It is interesting, that given the state of current events, law enforcement is being tasked with enforcing an order that some may believe is outside of their purview. 

Some city and county politicians are calling for officers to be reduced in number and to not allow officers to respond to calls that they believe should be handled by mental health professionals. 

With that mindset, perhaps, if there is to be enforcement of the order, someone with a medical background would be better suited.

Regardless of the current trends in the nation, North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, a Republican, also has a similar belief of the Sheriffs that criminal or civil enforcement is not warranted by law enforcement and gave his own statement in a letter issued to Governor Roy Cooper. 

In the letter, Forest stated that the Governor has “repeatedly ignored the law, enacting mandates that selectively target the businesses and citizens of North Carolina without concurrence from a majority of the Council of State.  The North Carolina Constitution does not create a unitary executive, but rather disburses executive power throughout the Council of State.”

With the challenges presented by law enforcement generally refused to take action on those not abiding by the executive order, it is unknown how or if it will be enforced.  It appears, at least for now, that the Lieutenant Governor has the back of the Sheriffs in his state.

The same debate is happening in California, where last Friday, California broke a record for the number of cases in a single day, according to KTLA.

That same day, Newsom issued a new mandate that is ordering state residents to wear masks inside public spaces and in situations where six feet of social distance cannot be maintained.

However, at least five sheriff’s departments are fighting back, saying that they will not enforce the order, while citing the minor nature of the offense or lack of sufficient resources.

The sheriff’s offices which announced their refusal to enforce the order are those in Orange, Sacramento, Tulare, Fresno, and Calaveras counties.

In Orange County, sheriff Don Barnes said:

“It is each person’s responsibility to wear a face covering and follow other recommended safeguards in order to stop the spread of COVID-19; it is not law enforcement’s responsibility to enforce it.”

In Sacramento, the sheriff’s office suggested that people should be “exercising safe practices,” including the wearing of masks, but said it was “inappropriate” to criminally enforce the governor’s order, or go after people or businesses who refuse to do so, according to the Sacramento Bee.  

“Due to the minor nature of the offense, the potential for negative outcomes during enforcement encounters, and anticipating the various ways in which the order may be violated, it would be inappropriate for deputies to criminally enforce the governor’s mandate,” Sheriff Scott Jones said in a statement.

Rather Jones said, deputies will be working in more of “an educational capacity,” which the office has maintained as an enforcement stance over the executive orders for months with regard to social distancing protocols, despite health orders locally and statewide coming down in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Jones said that sheriff’s office employees will comply with the order “to the extent feasible.”

As of Friday, Sacramento County had recorded 1,976 lab-positive cases of COVID-19, with 67 deaths. More than 475 cases and 22 deaths have taken place in unincorporated county areas of the county where Sacramento sheriff’s deputies routinely patrol.

Other Sacramento area agencies have also said that they will not enforce the order, including the Sacramento Police department, which said in a released statement that their “primary focus would be education,” spokesman Karl Chan said.

Placer County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Angela Musallam said that office will not enforce Newsom’s order either.

“We do hope [people] will take the rule to heart, but we have no interest in arresting or penalizing people who aren’t wearing masks in any way,” she said.

The office will be directing residents who have concerns about either businesses or groups that are out of compliance to Newsom’s office.

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The Placerville Police Department notified residents in a Facebook post on Thursday just after Newsom’s order that they were requested not to contact the police department to report violations of the mask order and to “use common sense and keep yourself safe.”

“This is not a police issue,” the department wrote.

Likewise, the Roseville Police Department said that they too would not enforce Newsom’s order.

“No law enforcement agency wants to be responsible for shutting down a gathering or citing people who are out of compliance” the department said in a Facebook post Thursday.

“If the need arises, we’ll work with our partners in Placer County Health and Human Services and City of Roseville Code Enforcement to ensure everyone understands the requirements and is working toward compliance.”

Yolo County officials said they would only act against non-compliant businesses, and not individuals. The county has had its own mask requirement in place since the end of April. They noted that their priority is education to get people to comply with the mask directive.

“The regular person on the street is likely not going to be given a citation,” said county spokeswoman Jenny Tan. “Businesses must make a good faith effort. When someone comes into a business or restaurant or gym, they have to say, ‘Hey please wear a face covering.’”

Aside from law enforcement officials, some cities and towns are also balking at enforcing the order. For example, the mayor of Nevada City intimated that Newsom’s order was not  legitimate.

Saturday morning, Mayor Reinette Senum said that Newsom’s orders could not be enforced by law and no action can legally be taken against offenders.

 

“As you go about your day today, KNOW there is NO LAW that Orders you to Wear a Mask. Our Governor does NOT have that unilateral power to make such orders,” Senum said.

“Ask your local Police chief or officers. They will not, and cannot, cite ANYBODY for not wearing a mask because the law does not exist.”

Senum continued, “When you come across Newsom’s ‘orders’ online, you will see it’s linked to a page that does not lead you to his Executive Order, BUT to the California Department of Public Health GUIDELINES!,” SHE SAID.

“Again, NOBODY can be forced to wear a mask outside, in a business, or as an employee or customer.”

It appears that not only have people had enough of subjective enforcement, but so have police and sheriff’s departments.


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