Sheriff Fortney calls stay-home decree unconstitutional, unfair
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney clarified a social media post criticizing the governor’s stay-home orders, but said last week he won’t walk back its message.
Fortney wrote that the sheriff’s office “will not be enforcing an order preventing religious freedoms or constitutional rights,” and said the governor should not be picking who is essential business.
“I’m not calling for open defiance ... I’m asking for equal treatment on the orders,” Fortney told reporters last week.
Fortney said private contractors should be allowed to work since contractors or public projects haven’t been stopped.
“I’m looking for leadership from the Governor -- not just (leadership) for people he thinks should be allowed to go out and make a living wage,” Fortney told reporters. “It should be fair and across the board.”
Fortney criticized that marijuana shops are open but gun shops are closed. “How are pot shops essential?,” he said in a news conference.
Fortney said he wants to know how other states have opened up to business, but Washington state hasn’t.
Fortney faced heat for his social media post, and acknowledged he would. In one response, which Gov. Jay Inslee’s office included with a press memo, Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell wrote that he fears people might misinterpret the sheriff’s comments as “license to willfully and blatantly violate the law.”
No, deputies are not arresting people for violating social distancing. But Fortney said they are not directed to take a blind eye to it, either.
“I am giving discretion to our sergeants,” Fortney said.
They are allowed to intervene. No arrests have ever been made, Fortney said.
“I let our guys, as they do every day in police work, use their discretion,” Fortney said.
Non-essential businesses violating the governor’s orders are handled through the legal system, not law enforcement. State officials explained at a March 30 conference that it begins with a warning, and repeat offenders may have their business license suspended or revoked.
The governor criticized Fortney in comments at an April 22 press conference. Inslee was also speaking about Franklin County sheriff, who wrote a letter he won’t enforce the stay-home orders; Franklin County’s sheriff has since issued a retraction online.
“We cannot have individual law enforcement officers arbitrarily decide what laws to enforce,” Inslee said.
Fortney rebuked to reporters: “Is releasing 1,100 felons arbitrary on his part?,” speaking to how some prisoners are being released early to reduce the state prison population.
The dust-up came days after a protest rally in Olympia and others nationally against stay-home orders.
Fortney said he drafted his 1,100 word post in early April, but Inslee’s conference Tuesday, April 21 was the “last straw” to prompt him to post something, he said.
“If this Coronavirus is so lethal and we have shut down our roaring economy to save lives, then it should be all or nothing,” Fortney wrote Tuesday, April 21. “The government should not be picking winners or losers when it comes to being able to make an income for your family.”
During a March 30 conference by the governor, law enforcement representatives emphasized they would not be stopping people to check their reasons for travel or for being out in public. During the April 22 press conference, Inslee said things likely won’t come down to arresting people. The governor emphasized that most people are following social distancing orders.
The governor’s powers under state law allow him to apply restrictions and curfews through proclamations, such as the March 23 order Inslee has named “Stay Home, Stay Healthy.” Anyone who willfully disobeys risks being determined guilty of a gross misdemeanor.
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