Law enforcement agencies respond to mask mandate
Gov. Asa Hutchinson's executive order mandating masks in public goes into effect today (Monday), and local law enforcement agencies have responded how they will handle the order.
Mississippi County Sheriff Dale Cook said his officers will not be enforcing the mask mandate but will respond to trespassing calls if a citizen doesn’t comply with the businesses' rules.
“As Sheriff, I feel that the citizens and visitors of Mississippi County know when they should and should not wear a mask and whether they fall within one of the several exemptions of the face covering mandate. Because EO 20-43 specifically states that law enforcement officers cannot detain, arrest, or confine any person for violation this order, and with the numerous exemptions allowed thereunder, the Mississippi County Sheriff's Office will not respond to complaints of non-compliance of the mask directive in EO 20-43,” Sheriff Cook wrote in a press release. “The Sheriff's Office will respond to complaint calls where a person has been asked by a local business to comply with the mask directive or leave the premises but then refuses to leave. This would constitute a criminal trespass matter that is a separate and distinct violation under the law. As Sheriff, my personal opinions have no bearing on the decisions that are made in these situations. The Sheriff's Office does not make or pass laws, and we must rely on the courts to interpret the meaning of the language and provisions of the respective constitutions.”
The release continues, “The Sheriff's Office policy only applies to actions and decisions undertaken by Sheriff's Deputies. It is not applicable to actions or decisions undertaken by other law enforcement agencies or jurisdictions in Mississippi County. Persons having questions or concerns about the health directive, or non-compliance of the Governor's Executive Order, should contact the Arkansas Department of Health at (501) 661-2000.”
Blytheville Chief of Police Ross Thompson said his department will enforce the executive order.
“Monday, July 20, 2020, Governor Hutchinson's Executive Order EO20-43 goes into effect which, under certain circumstances, mandates the wearing of a face mask. The Blytheville Police Department will respond to calls from local businesses and industries where a person has violated Arkansas Statute 5-39-203 Criminal Trespass, by refusing to either comply with the executive order or leave the premises,” explained Thompson. “As always, the Blytheville Police Department enforces all state laws and mandates. Anyone having questions or concerns about the Governor's Executive Order, should contact the Arkansas Department of Health at (501) 661-2000.”
Sheriff Cook informed residents of the order in the press release.
"The Secretary of Health shall issue a public health directive requiring every person in Arkansas to wear a face covering over the mouth and nose in all indoor environments where they are exposed to non-household members and distancing of six (6) feet or more cannot be assured and in all outdoor settings where there is exposure to non-household members, unless there exists ample space of six (6) feet or more to practice physical distancing,” the order reads. "The following shall be exempt from where a face covering: Persons younger than 10 years of age. Persons with a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering; Persons performing job duties where a six (6) feet distance is not achievable, but a mask is inhibitory to the ability to safety and effectively perform the job duty;Persons participating in athletic activities where a six (6) feet distance is not achievable, but a mask is inhibitory to the activity; Persons consuming food or drink; Persons driving alone or with passengers from the driver's household; Person receiving services that require access to the face for security, surveillance, or other purposes may temporarily remove a face covering while receiving those services; Persons voting, assisting voters, serving as poll watchers, or actively performing election administration duties; however, face coverings are strongly encouraged; Persons engaged in religious worship activities; however, face coverings are strongly encouraged; Persons giving a speech or performance for broadcast or to an audience; however, those persons shall safely distance from nearby individuals; Persons in counties where the Department of Health has certified that risk of community transmission of COVID-19 is low. To be considered low risk, the county must not have a newly identified case of COVID-19 for twenty-eight (28) consecutive days, assuming there has been adequate testing in the county.”
Poinsett County Sheriff Kevin Molder echoed Cook’s response.
“As sheriff, I believe that the citizens and visitors of Poinsett County know when they should or should not wear face coverings. Since EO 20-43 specifically states that law enforcement officers cannot detain, arrest, or confine any person for violating this order, and with the numerous exemptions allowed thereunder, the Poinsett County Sheriff's Office will not respond to complaints of non-compliance of the mask directive in EO 20-43,” explained Molder on the Poinsett County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page. “Deputies are often overwhelmed with other situations that take precedence over a complaint about a person not wearing a mask. The Sheriff's Office will respond to complaint calls from local business owners who have asked a person to leave their business for failure to wear a mask. This would constitute a criminal trespass matter, which is a violation under State Law. This policy only applies to actions and decisions undertaken by Deputy Sheriffs. It is not applicable to actions or decisions undertaken by other law enforcement agencies or jurisdictions in Poinsett County. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this Health Directive or non-compliance of the Governor's Executive Order, please feel free to contact the Arkansas Department of Health at (501) 661-2000.”
Molder also added a statement Sunday night to the page.
Molder stated, “Tomorrow is the day that many of the large retailers and local businesses will require wearing a mask. My friend and fellow sheriff, Sheriff Scott Sawyer, said it best: ‘Please remember that our local retail employees do not make the policies for the companies they work for. They are working hard trying to support their families. If you are denied entry or service due to not wearing a mask, either put a mask on while you do your shopping or take your business elsewhere. Private businesses have the right to refuse service to a customer that is refusing to wear a mask in their business.’ The employees are simply doing what they are told. Please respect that. Thank you.”