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SHERIFF'S OFFICE ADOPTS POLICY CONCERNING GOVERNOR'S EXECUTIVE ORDER ON FACE COVERINGS

07/17/2020

     The Baxter County Sheriff's Office is charged with protecting and serving all people without regard for the person's race, color, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, ancestry, or disabilities.  The coronavirus (COVID-19) issue has caused many debates among people and the best way to go about handling this threat to our health, safety, and welfare. 

     Yesterday, July 16th, the Governor of Arkansas issued Executive Order 20-43 that requires people to wear face coverings when out in public.  The Baxter County Sheriff's Office is compelled to follow the Governor's Executive Order as a matter of law until such time that it is either rescinded by the Governor or is successfully challenged in court.  To that end, we have adopted a written policy that specifies how Sheriff's Office employees will operate under the EO 20-43 directive.

     The Governor's Order, EO 20-43, basically requires the wearing of a mask or face covering in all indoor and outdoor settings when not around family members or when social distancing of at least 6 feet cannot be assured.  There are a number of exemptions to this regulation.  Specifically, the order states as follows:

1.        The Secretary of Health shall issue a public health directive requiring every person in Arkansas to wear a face covering over the mouth and nose in all indoor environments where they are exposed to non-household members and distancing of six (6) feet or more cannot be assured and in all outdoor settings where there is exposure to non-household members, unless there exists ample space of six (6) feet or more to practice physical distancing.  The following shall be exempt from wearing a face covering:

a.  Persons younger than 10 years of age;

b.  Persons with a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering;

c.  Persons performing job duties where a six (6) feet distance is not achievable, but a mask is inhibitory to the ability to safety and effectively perform the job duty;

d.  Persons participating in athletic activities where a six (6) feet distance is not achievable, but a mask is inhibitory to the activity;

e.  Persons consuming food or drink;

f.  Persons driving alone or with passengers from the driver's household;

g.  Persons receiving services that require access to the face for security, surveillance, or other purposes may temporarily remove a face covering while receiving those services;

h.  Persons voting, assisting voters, serving as poll watchers, or actively performing election administration duties; however, face coverings are strongly encouraged;

i.  Persons engaged in religious worship activities; however, face coverings are strongly encouraged;

j.  Persons giving a speech or performance for broadcast or to an audience; however, those persons shall safely distance from nearby individuals;

k.  Persons in counties where the Department of Health has certified that risk of community transmission of COVID-19 is low.  To be considered low risk, the county must not have a newly identified case of COVID-19 for twenty-eight (28) consecutive days, assuming there has been adequate testing in the county.

     As Sheriff, I feel that the citizens and visitors of Baxter County know when they should and should not wear a mask and whether they fall within one of the several exemptions of the face covering mandate.

     Because EO 20-43 specifically states that law enforcement officers cannot detain, arrest, or confine any person for violating this order, and with the numerous exemptions allowed thereunder, the Baxter County Sheriff's Office will not respond to complaints of non-compliance of the mask directive in EO 20-43. 

     The Sheriff's Office will respond to complaint calls where a person has been asked by a local business to comply with the mask directive or leave the premises but then refuses to leave.  This would constitute a criminal trespass matter that is a separate and distinct violation under the law.

     As Sheriff, my personal opinions have no bearing on the decisions that are made in these situations.  The Sheriff's Office does not make or pass laws, and we must rely on the courts to interpret the meaning of the language and provisions of the respective constitutions. 

     The Sheriff's Office policy only applies to actions and decisions undertaken by Sheriff's Deputies.  It is not applicable to actions or decisions undertaken by other law enforcement agencies or jurisdictions in Baxter County.

     Persons having questions or concerns about the health directive, or non-compliance of the Governor's Executive Order, should contact the Arkansas Department of Health at (501) 661-2000.

Sheriff John Montgomery

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