Indiana sheriffs in 4 counties say they will not act as mask police

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INDIANA — Sheriffs in at least four Indiana counties have come forward saying their offices will not enforce the statewide executive order mandating wearing masks.

Sheriffs in Sullivan, Hamilton, Delaware and Johnson Counties said they will not enforce the order, as it has not been introduced as a bill in the General Assembly and legislators are not in session.

On Wednesday, Governor Eric Holcomb announced that he would sign an executive order making it a criminal offense to not wear a face covering, with some exemptions. Attorney General Curtis Hill questioned Holcomb’s authority to criminalize the mask order violations, calling for a special legislative session.

“The wisdom of wearing masks — or of laws requiring such measures — is not the issue here. Rather, the issue is whether we are following the proper and constitutional processes for enacting laws and whether we are respecting the distinct roles of each branch of state government,” Attorney General Hill said.

Attorney General Hill said while executive orders have an important and legitimate function during times of emergency, it is time to show difference to the branch of government charged by the state’s constitution with the responsibility for enacting laws.

The sheriffs in Sullivan, Hamilton, Delaware and Johnson Counties echoed the Attorney General’s sentiments, saying they will enforce the laws put into place by elected legislators.

“The announced order has not been introduced as a bill in the General Assembly and our legislators are not in session. The General Assembly could be called into session by the Governor if the “public welfare shall require it,” but this critical step has not taken place. Indiana’s Attorney General has issued an opinion in which he believes this to be unconstitutional. I strongly concur with this opinion,” Hamilton County Sheriff Dennis Quakenbush II said.

While they said they would not stop, detain or issue citations for not wearing a mask, busineses or organizations reserve the right to deny entry or refuse service to an individual.

“Failure to leave a business or organization after being asked to do so, could be considered trespassing, creating an unwanted legal situation for yourself,” Sullivan County Sheriff Clark Cottom said.

The sheriffs are telling residents not to call the Sheriff’s Office or dispatch about violations pertaining to the executive order. They say people can contact the Indiana State Department of Health with concerns or complaints.

“People who need immediate help with serious life-threatening medical issues or crimes of violence will not be able to get prompt assistance. If you feel obligated to report mask violations please contact the Indiana State Department of Health or the Delaware County Health Department,”

“If a disturbance or other issue were to develop, deputies would respond as always; however, we will not respond solely for allegations of a violation of the executive order,” Johnson County Sheriff Duane Burgess said.

The governor has always taken the position that the power granted him under the emergency declaration gives him the authority to issue such mandates as the face mask order.

You can read the full statements from the Sheriffs’ offices below.

On March 6th, 2020 a public health emergency was declared for the State of Indiana and has been extended four times. On July 22nd, 2020 the Governor announced he was going to sign an executive order making it a criminal offense not to wear a mask at certain times and locations, for anyone 8 years and older, punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and up to 180 days in jail.

Regardless of any opinion of masks or their impact on COVID 19 good or bad, we must not deviate from the documents which protect our freedoms and liberties. We must guard them at all costs. The men and women of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office will not be enforcing the mask mandate and will consider it null and void.

As your elected Sheriff of Hamilton County, Indiana, my primary concern and responsibility is to protect the constitutional rights of the citizens. I took an oath to uphold the constitution of the United States and the State of Indiana. I will always do this to the best of my ability.

The announced order has not been introduced as a bill in the General Assembly and our legislators are not in session. The General Assembly could be called into session by the Governor if the “public welfare shall require it,” but this critical step has not taken place. Indiana’s Attorney General has issued an opinion in which he believes this to be unconstitutional. I strongly concur with this opinion.

Here are some pertinent excerpts from the Indiana Constitution.

Article III, Section 1, The powers of the Government are divided into three separate departments; the Legislative, the Executive including the Administrative, and the Judicial: and no person, charged with official duties under one of these departments, shall exercise any of the functions of another, except as in this Constitution expressly provided.

Article IV, Section 1, The Legislative authority of the State shall be vested in a General Assembly, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives. The style of every law shall be: “Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana”; and no law shall be enacted, except by bill.

Article IV, Section 9, The sessions of the General Assembly shall be held at the capitol of the State, commencing on the Tuesday next after the second Monday in January of each year in which the General Assembly meets unless a different day or place shall have been appointed by law. But if, in the opinion of the Governor, the public welfare shall require it, he may, at any time by proclamation, call a special session. The length and frequency of the sessions of the General Assembly shall be fixed by law.

Dennis J. Quakenbush II, Sheriff of Hamilton County

Governor Holcomb has enacted an executive order to mandate mask wearing in public places beginning Monday, July 27, 2020. As your elected Sheriff, I want to address this executive order and my stance on it:

The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office will NOT be enforcing the executive order. We will continue to enforce the law as guided by the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the State of Indiana, and those laws which are put into place by our elected legislators, as we are sworn to do.

Please do not contact the Sheriff’s Office or dispatch regarding violations of this executive order. Instead, you may contact the Indiana State Department of Health with any concerns or complaints. If a disturbance or other issue were to develop, deputies would respond as always; however, we will not respond solely for allegations of a violation of the executive order. Please remember that any business or organization may refuse service to any individual who refuses to wear a mask. Failure to leave the business or organization when asked could be treated as Criminal Trespass, with legal ramifications.

Whether you support or oppose the Governor’s decision, I would like to encourage everyone to be respectful and tactful when addressing another person about their use of a mask. We all will get through this together!

Duane E. Burgess, Sheriff of Johnson County

As you are likely aware, this week Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb signed an executive order mandating the wearing of masks in public places, beginning Monday, July 27, 2020.

As your Sheriff, I have received several questions, therefore, I feel it is important to address our position concerning enforcement of this order.

Sullivan County Sheriff’s deputies will not stop or detain a citizen for not wearing a mask.

My staff will not be issuing citations or taking anyone to jail for a violation of this order.

Our agency will not respond solely to a reported violation of this order.

Therefore, please do not call the Sheriff’s Office or 911 dispatch to report violations of this order.

As sworn officials, we will uphold the Constitution of the United States and enforce the laws of the State of Indiana, which were put into place by our elected legislators.

Please know that a business or organization reserves the right to deny entry, and/ or refuse service to an individual.

Failure to leave a business or organization after being asked to do so, could be considered trespassing, creating an unwanted legal situation for yourself.

Because of the unique responsibilities inside our facility, masks are required inside the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office and Jail.

My staff and I will be wearing masks when interacting with the public, while on duty, or whenever appearing in the uniform of the department unless safety dictates otherwise.

We too look forward to the day when life returns back to “normal“.

As a community, we will get through these trying times together.

Clark Cottom, Sheriff of Sullivan County

Starting on Monday, July 27, 2020 an executive order goes into effect making It mandatory that citizens over eight years old wear a face covering (mask) while inside a public place, Including commercial and transportation entities, schools for all faculty, staff and visitors and students from third grade and up, as well as outdoor public spaces where social distancing is not possible. During his press conference, the Governor also said, “Please know that the mask police will not be patrolling Indiana streets.”

This is a public health Issue and not a police Issue. The Delaware County Sheriff’s Office Is not the ‘mask police’ and I am asking you not to call dispatch for the sole purpose of reporting someone not wearing a mask In one of these situations. Calling dispatch to report people allegedly not wearing a mask will overwhelm and overload the dispatch system. This will have serious consequences. People who need immediate help with serious life-threatening medical issues or crimes of violence will not be able to get prompt assistance. If you feel obligated to report mask violations please contact the Indiana State Department of Health or the Delaware County Health Department.

The Sheriff’s Office also recognizes the rights of property owners and businesses and their rights to create policy for their property. If a business, school, government building, etc… requires you to wear a mask while on their property then you can either wear the mask or leave. The same thing applies to private property; if the property owner asks you to wear a mask; you either wear a mask or leave. If you
are told to leave a business or property because you refuse to wear a mask that becomes a criminal matter, trespassing, and we wIll respond to these types of calls.

Tony Skinner, Sheriff of Delaware County

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