The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office is not in the business of enforcing mask mandates at businesses or other buildings to curb the spread of COVID-19, Sheriff Dave Marshak said.
“As I have said time and time again, we are not the mask police,” Marshak said, “The Sheriff’s Office has many responsibilities to the people of Jefferson County, but enforcing a mask policy is not one of those. We continue to balance our approach and respect the position of those who choose to wear a mask, and those who don’t.”
Numerous retail and grocery stores began requiring customers to wear masks in their buildings on July 20, with others scheduled to follow suit at the start of August.
In addition, County Executive Dennis Gannon issued a directive that went into effect July 20 requiring people to wear face masks in the Jefferson County Administration Center, the Administration Center Annex, the County Courthouse and the Justice Center.
As of Tuesday (July 28), Marshak said he was not aware of the Sheriff’s Office getting any calls asking deputies to mediate disputes about face masks.
However, since more and more businesses and organizations are requiring masks, the Sheriff’s Office has posted its enforcement policy on its Facebook page.
The post generated hundreds and hundreds of comments, shares and reactions.
“This is a very polarizing topic,” Marshak said. “Our goal is to find a mutual compromise.”
In the post, the Sheriff’s Office shared a memorandum written by Capt. Gary Higginbotham that outlined how deputies will handle disputes about masks.
The post says deputies will not take an enforcement action related to someone “refusing to wear a face covering alone,” and that deputies will not tell anyone to wear a face mask.
However, if a business owner tells a customer not to enter his or her establishment without a mask and the customer refuses to leave, the business owner may pursue a first-degree trespassing charge, which is a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.
In the Facebook post, the Sheriff’s Office said if a business owner wants someone removed on a trespassing charge, the deputy will give the customer a chance to leave or put on a mask, if that is the issue. If the person leaves or agrees to wear a mask, the owner may choose if he or she still wants to pursue a trespassing charge.
“In most cases an arrest will not be necessary and if the person in control of the property wishes prosecution, the suspect will not be arrested (but instead) will be released at the scene per application for a warrant or a summons for trespassing on private property. If the suspect continually refuses to leave the establishment, every attempt to deescalate the situation shall be made, with the goal being to gain compliance,” the post said.
“We don’t want to have to take enforcement action on anybody,” Marshak said.
However, if a customer still refuses to leave after a deputy asks the person to, then the deputy would make an arrest.
The Facebook post ends by saying, “We really would prefer to stay out of the whole mask business, but if the business wants to prosecute you for trespassing, then we will again plead with you to leave before action. Simply, please don’t make us take action for dumb stuff as we really do have other priorities. Thank you.”
Marshak said deputies are allowed to decide if and when they will wear a mask while performing their duties in the community, adding that many deputies wear a mask when interacting with people. He also said all Sheriff’s Office employees wear a mask when in county buildings, in accordance to the directive issued by the county executive.
Marshak said numerous factors go into a deputy’s decision whether to wear a mask.
“We educate our officers of ‘CDC Guidelines for Law Enforcement’ and encourage them to take precautions as necessary,” Marshak said. “One challenge and consideration for our officers is that they have difficulty talking on their radios and accurately hearing the muffled communication from the radio when masks are used. As a result, we leave it to their discretion to make their own choices.
“There are a lot of different considerations that go into a deputy choosing to wear a mask in certain situations.”