GILLESPIE COUNTY, Texas - The Gillespie County Sheriff's Office will not be enforcing Gov. Greg Abbott's recent executive order requiring masks in counties seeing 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, Gillespie County has 45 positive cases with 26 recoveries and 19 active cases as of Monday afternoon.
Sheriff Buddy Mills made the announcement on the Gillespie County Sheriff's Office Facebook page on July 4, saying that the order "includes specific language prohibiting law enforcement the use of detention, arrest, or confinement to enforce the order" and that the "language also strips law enforcement of any fundamental tools necessary to enforce compliance with the law."
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"This language would subject our agency to liability for even speaking to a person about this order, as that could be construed as a detention," reads the post. "Furthermore, holding someone for the purpose of issuing a citation related to a fine, would be, under current law, an illegal detention."
The Sheriff says he will not require deputies to wear face masks on duty for two reasons:
- The wearing of objects near the face and neck provide an offender possible tools to impose harm to an officer, and this office will not put the deputy in an unnecessary disadvantage during a physical confrontation. For the same reason, deputies at this agency are not required to wear neckties on duty unless in ceremonial events.
- In light of recent allegations in the nation of misconduct on the part of law enforcement, the Sheriff will not restrict the deputy's ability to clearly communicate intentions when in contact with citizens.
However, GCSO won't prohibit deputies from wearing face masks if they choose to do so.
"The Sheriff's Office must consider the intent of the Texas Constitution in regards to how laws of the land are passed and enforced in this state," reads the post. "Traditionally, law enforcement only enforces laws and statutes that are the product of the legislative process or the product of regulatory authorities authorized by the legislature. The further removed we become from this, the more liability and responsibility we incur as an agency."
The sheriff says in the post that they encourage all citizens to take reasonable precautions to mitigate exposure to COVID-19.
Abbott's order went into effect on Friday, July 3 and says that a verbal or written warning can be issued for a first-time violator of the mask requirement. A person’s second violation can result in a fine of up to $250. Local law enforcement can issue warnings and fines, but cannot arrest or jail people.
Abbott says this is to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 which has seen a spike here in Central Texas. In the last half of May, Texas averaged about 1,500 positive cases a day, but that last week, that number quadrupled to 6,000 positive cases a day, according to the governor.
Exceptions to the order include people younger than 10, eating or drinking, exercising, driving alone or with passengers from the same household, in religious worship, giving a speech for broadcast, medical conditions, and voting.
FOX 7 Austin is working to keep you up to date with coronavirus, with both local and national developments. You can also get the latest COVID-19 news from around the country at coronavirusnow.com.