Sonoma County Sheriff Refuses to Enforce “Crushing” Health Order

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In a surprise, unprecendented announcement, Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick penned an open letter to the community Thursday evening saying he would no longer enforce the county’s shelter-in-place order.  Instead said the Sheriff, he would follow guidance issued by Governor Gavin Newsom.

Writing that he could no longer “in good conscience” continue to enforce Sonoma County Public Health Orders that “criminalize otherwise lawful business and personal behavior” the sheriff set himself on a possible collision course with both the county board of supervisors and public health officer Dr. Sundari Mase.

The letter caught much of the community and county leadership off guard, with some supervisors saying they had no advance notice that the sheriff would take such a stand.  Within hours the letter had unleashed a storm of opinion, with hundreds of both positive and negative comments posted on social media.  For his part, Supervisor James Gore, writing Thursday evening on Facebook, called for an end to the “essential – nonessential” paradigm of shelter-in-place which creates “winners and losers” and echoed Essick’s call for a move toward a “risk-based” system.

In his letter, Essick said he had repeatedly asked for transparency and additional information from the public health office without success.  He said it was time the county moved to a “risk-based” system and said he was troubled that continuing orders “placed significant restrictions on our freedoms we were not accustomed to in a free society.”

Calling the burden on the public “crushing” Essick said that as of Monday June 1st he would direct his 650 employee department not to actively enforce the county’s shelter-in-place order.  In his letter the sheriff stated that he initially supported the public health orders, but that he was bothered that further restrictions beyond state guidelines were not justified given the number of cases and deaths in the county.  And he charged that his action was forced by a lack of transparency from the county health officer.

Moving forward, Essick said any violations would be considered on case by case basis against state guidelines and not county orders.

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