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Alicia Dorn

Communications Director/Public Information Officer




SHERIFF WOODS RESPONDS TO GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON'S MASK MANDATE: Jefferson County, AR - Friday, July 17, 2020 - As the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the state, law enforcement agencies will prepare to enforce the governor's newest mandate --- wearing masks in public. On Friday, July 17th, Gov. Asa Hutchinson hosted a call with chiefs and sheriffs of local law enforcement agencies as the statewide order goes into effect on Monday, July 20th.

"We believe this is important from a public health standpoint that's been adopted nationally," said Gov. Asa Hutchinson during Friday's press conference. "This is something that is necessary in Arkansas with the cases that we've had."

A violation of the order will result in a misdemeanor that's punishable by a fine of up to $500. According to Hutchinson, law enforcement cannot detain or arrest offenders. However, first-time offenders can expect a warning.

"... All of these decisions in terms of enforcement are subject to local priority and that is a prerogative of the local law sheriff," said Hutchinson. "It is the prerogative of the local police department to set their enforcement priorities. And so, I defer to them on that. It is an option they can utilize to educate, to enforce and to make sure that we all stay healthy in our communities."

Jefferson County Sheriff Lafayette Woods, Jr. was one of many sheriffs on the call Friday afternoon who voiced his opinion on the order.

"Although wearing cloth masks alone is unlikely to prevent someone from inhaling microscopic virus particles, as sheriffs we do understand that it is still crucial now in the battle against COVID-19," Woods said. "We're just concerned as to how enforcement might compile or complicate an already tense time for members of law enforcement. I have communicated with Governor Hutchinson and he has deferred enforcement of his executive order to local law enforcement."

Woods explained that due to citizen's mistrust of law enforcement, the mask mandate comes at a time that could be potentially difficult for law enforcement.

"Presented with the potential to have to enforce such a mandate when some people feel they have a right not to be forced to wear a mask, is challenging at a time when tension is still high," he said. "The Supreme Court ruled that all prisoners have the right to adequate medical care while incarcerated and evidence of officials' "deliberate indifference" is a violation of that right. Many sheriffs including myself have been inundated with law suits filed by detainees alleging a violation of the cruel and unusual punishment clause of their 8th Amendment Right under the United States Constitution because they aren't tested for COVID-19 upon demand."

According to Woods, if business owners require those visiting their facility to wear masks, everyone entering the business should adhere to it.

"Enforcement for Jefferson County Sheriff's Office will not involve issuing citations for violation of the governor's executive order. However, we will respond to businesses within our jurisdiction for patrons who refuse to comply and remain at the business after being asked to leave by the private business owner," said Woods. "This may constitute a violation of trespassing, which we will enforce at the request of the private business owner."

As of Friday, the Arkansas Department of Health reported 31, 762 cases of COVID-19 in the state with 464 currently in the hospital. At least 353 have died from the virus while more than 24,700 people have recovered from it per data from the health department.