Throwing down the gauntlet!
A number of Texas sheriffs are refusing to enforce Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s (R) executive order making face masks mandatory.
Abbott initially said he did not believe in mandatory mask rules. However, the conservative governor has signed an executive order compelling most Texans to wear face coverings or risk fines of up to $250.
Abbott’s order went into effect at noon on Friday in counties with 20 or more novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases when “it is not feasible to maintain six feet of social distancing from another person not in the same household.”
Here are the sheriffs defying him so far.
Gillespie County Sheriff Buddy Mills Long
Gillespie County’s top lawman will not enforce the statewide mask order. (KXAN)
GCSO says it will not enforce the order because it “strips law enforcement of any fundamental tools necessary to enforce compliance.”
GCSO also states that the order contains specific language, stopping law enforcement from detention, arrest or confinement for violators. GCSO claims it would be liable for even speaking to a person about the order because it could be construed as detention.
Mills is not requiring deputies to wear masks.
Denton County Sheriff Tracy Murphree
Some of Murphree’s constituents are incensed by his refusal to enforce Abbott’s face mask mandate, although Murphree argues its contradictory wording makes it unenforceable.
In an interview with the Denton Record-Chronicle, Murphree explained his position.
“First of all, what it says is that law enforcement and other local officials, not just the sheriffs, can and should enforce the executive order,” Murphree said. “That’s permissive and says you can and [they] believe you should, but they’re not directing anyone to enforce it.”
Executive orders are not law, but under the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, “executive orders, proclamations and regulations have the force and effect of law.”
“I completely agree with that, but in his proclamation, he is prohibiting me from complying,” Murphree said of the governor. “His order does not direct me but gives me permission. I’m complying by not enforcing it. If I can’t detain anyone for this, I can’t write them a ticket. I can’t even stop and talk to them.”
Murphree said he would reevaluate his position if Abbott changed his language but the sheriff doubts the governor will do so.
Nacogdoches County Sheriff Jason Bridges
Sheriff Bridges explained to the local ABC affiliate, KTRE, that his office will not enforce the order’s citation policy.
“The Nacogdoches Sheriff’s Office is not going to be issuing citations for not wearing masks. This order clearly states that you have to give a warning…first of all we are not keeping a database of people who are wear a mask and who are not. We don’t have the time or the energy to do that,” Bridges said.
Bridges added on Facebook Live that he promised to defend the U.S. Constitution and that Abbott’s recent initiatives are “borderline infringing on those Constitutional rights.”
Upshur County Sheriff Larry Webb
The Upshur County Sheriff’s Office will not take any actions to enforce Abbott’s Executive Order 29, stating that it strips officers of their ability to enforce compliance with the law.
Montgomery County Sheriff Rand Henderson
The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office won’t enforce Abbott’s order either, saying that carrying it out would be challenging as it doesn’t allow law enforcement to detain, arrest, or jail individuals.
“The language in the Governor’s order could subject our agency, and Montgomery County as a whole, to civil liability as stopping someone for a face covering related issue could be constructed or misconstructed as a detention. Additionally, holding someone for the purpose of issuing a citation related to a fine is a legally defined detention under current Texas Law,” the MCSO explained in a press release.
The sheriff’s office said deputies would help business owners or authorized supervisors turn away customers who refuse to wear masks, but only at their request.
Smith County Sheriff Larry R. Smith
Like Nacogdoches County, Smith County will encourage wearing masks but it will not issue citations.
Kerr County Sheriff Rusty Hierholzer
While Sheriff Hierholzer considers the virus a grave threat, he went to Facebook to explain why his office will not enforce Abbott’s order.
Gregg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano
In a statement to KTRE, the Gregg County Sheriff’s Office explained it wants to start with educating its citizens, to encourage voluntary compliance with mask-wearing.
“First, please understand if a business refuses you service for not wearing a mask they have the right to do so,” the sheriff’s office wrote on its Facebook page.
If enforcement is necessary, they want to start with a discussion, but written warnings or citations are possible, at the discretion of the deputy.
“Second, if the Gregg County Sheriff’s Office is placed in a position where enforcement is necessary we will start with education and requesting voluntary compliance,” the post said. “If Gregg Country Sheriff’s Office Deputies encounter an individual that refuses to voluntarily comply, verbal warnings and or written warnings will follow. As a very last resort a citation can be written at the discretion of the deputy.”
Panola County Sheriff Kevin Lake
The Panola County Sheriff’s Office told CBS News that while it actively encourages the use of face masks, compliance would be voluntary.
Echoing other jurisdictions across the state, the office said it lacks the staff to track individual warnings and citations.
Houston County Sheriff Justin Killough
Killough was unanimously appointed the interim sheriff of Houston Country by the County Commissioners Court in March following the resignation of Sheriff Darrel Bobbitt.
Killough will serve at least through the November 3 election.