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Sheriffs Rebel Against Abbott's Mask Order, Won't Enforce It

Law enforcement officials in multiple counties say the mandate is 'unenforceable'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 7, 2020 9:05 AM CDT
Sheriffs Rebel Against Abbott's Mask Order, Won't Enforce It
In this June 16, 2020, file photo, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott adjusts his mask after speaking in Austin, Texas.   (Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP, File)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott did a 180 last week on wearing masks in public, requiring Texans to wear them in any county with more than 20 COVID-19 cases. But the mandate is now receiving backlash, with law enforcement officials in several counties noting they won't enforce the order. Per the Houston Chronicle, the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office said in a statement that the mandate "is unenforceable because it doesn't allow law enforcement to detain, arrest, or jail violators," meaning that it could set the sheriff's office up for civil liability if someone is stopped for a warning or cited with a fine and interprets that as a detention. "We are in a public health crisis and we will use this opportunity to educate our community while still respecting individual liberties," the sheriff's office said, noting it would respond to calls from businesses if customers who won't wear masks won't leave the venue.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports sheriffs in at least seven other counties—Denton, Gillespie, Kerr, Nacogdoches, Panola, Smith, and Upshur—are also refusing to fine or cite those who violate Abbott's mask order. They note not only the detention murkiness, but also, in some cases, an inability to track repeat offenders and a lack of resources. Kerr County Sheriff Rusty Hierholzer posted online that he thinks the mask mandate is "unconstitutional," per the San Antonio Express-News. "For the record, I strongly believe we should all be doing everything to stop this virus, but we cannot throw our constitution out the window," Hierholzer wrote in the comments on a previous post. "We will never get it back." He also noted he was worried people would try to defend themselves against laws they deemed unconstitutional. "I cannot stand by ... and let OUR officers get hurt," he wrote. (More Texas stories.)

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