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Sheriff vows to defy Governor's shut down orders in Washington State

Citizens have begun pushing back against Governor Inslee’s stay at home orders, and now the Sheriff of Snohomish County is refusing to enforce them.
Ari Hoffman Seattle, WA

In Washington State, as in many other localities and municipalities across North America, animosity toward elected officials and law enforcement has been growing as the social distancing measures and business closures drag on. Citizens, public officials and municipalities have begun pushing back and defying Governor Inslee’s stay at home and shut down orders, and now the Sheriff of Snohomish County, north of Seattle, is refusing to enforce the Inslee's orders.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney stated that he refuses to enforce the Governor’s stay at home order and that he believe is it unconstitutional. "I am worried about the economy and I am worried about Washingtonians that need to make a living for their family," Fortney said.

"As more data floods in week by week and day by day about this pandemic I think it is clear that the models have not been entirely accurate. While that is okay, we cannot continue down the same path we have been on if the government reaction does not fit the data or even worse, the same government reaction makes our situation worse."

Fortney's post was in response to a televised address Tuesday evening wherein Washington State Governor Jay Inslee broke the news that "We will not be able to lift many of the restrictions by May 4." Inslee continued "…and we will let you know when we can lift many of those restrictions as soon as we know."

The address was billed as a plan to reopen the state from the stay at home order which has been in place since March 23, but the governor offered very little in terms of an actual plan and rather spoke in broad strokes. "It will look more like the turning of a dial than the flip of a switch."

The governor’s announcement seemed to conflict with other agencies. Leaders of the Washington State COVID-19 task force said in a Tuesday afternoon briefing that recent data suggests that the state is managing to contain the virus and that the trends indicate that the state could soon move to a phased approach of restarting the state's economic engine.

This was similar to the statement by Vice President Mike Pence who stated in Monday’s White House COVID-19 Press Briefing that there was enough testing for every state to move to a Phase 1 approach.

Governor Inslee’s announcement seemed to contradict the task force optimism. “To turn back on this successful temporary approach now, would be disastrous... This recovery requires a strategic approach guided by science, not by politics."

Saturday, approximately 50 boats with hundreds more on shore in Richland Washington, demanded that restrictions on recreational fishing and shellfish harvesting be lifted. On Sunday over 4,000 people rallied at the State Capital to advocate for ending he stay at home orders. Fisherman

After Inslee's Tuesday address, pushback from public officials began to snowball. In a virtual news conference, State Sens. Phil Fortunato, Mike Padden, Doug Ericksen, and Reps. Jesse Young and Vicki Kraft, some of whom attended the demonstration in Olympia, discussed the need for a virtual special legislative session to address Inslee's "unchecked executive actions" and the need to reopen the economy.

Franklin County Sheriff J.D. Raymond, sent a a similar letter to constituents saying he would not enforce the order. “I believe that social distancing and taking appropriate and proper steps to slow the spread of the virus and control its transmission is important.” Raymond continued that he believes that adults are capable of policing themselves and “we have the capability of adjusting our habits to these trying times.”

Tuesday morning, three commissioners in Franklin County, WA unanimously voted to reopen businesses with some calling the governor’s stay at home order unconstitutional. The Governor’s office responded sternly Wednesday morning in a letter addressed to Franklin County stating that: "The action taken by the Board of Commissioners intentionally and knowingly violates an order issued by the Governor pursuant to his emergency powers, see RCW 43.06.220(1), and it therefore violates state law. And it encourages its residents, to their detriment, to violate the Governor's order and state law."

The letter goes on to demand that commissioners “immediately retract or rescind” the resolution that declares the county open for business.

On Wednesday morning gubernatorial candidate Joshua Freed together with his attorney Mark Lamb announced on the Todd Herman Show that they had filed a federal lawsuit against Governor Jay Inslee, claiming that restrictions on religious gatherings under Washington’s stay home order violate the constitution.

The lawsuit states that “This makes it clear that the Governor’s ban is not just on large religious gatherings but rather an absolute and total ban for a single individual seeking guidance from a bible study leader, rabbi, imam, pastor or spiritual support group, regardless of whether the participants employ social distancing, hygiene, and other efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

In an interview Tuesday on the Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, US Attorney General William Barr said that the Justice Department could side with citizens who sue governors over undue restrictions.

“Our federal constitutional rights don’t go away in an emergency… And in a circumstance like this, they put on the government the burden to make sure that whatever burdens it’s putting on our constitutional liberties are strictly necessary to deal with the problem. They have to be targeted. They have to use less intrusive means if they are equally effective in dealing with the problem. And that’s the situation we’re in today. We’re moving into a period where we have to do a better job of targeting the measures we’re deploying to deal with this virus.”

With more legal challenges against the order rumored to brewing and citizen pushback growing it is unclear if the Justice Department will act against Inslee’s orders. In an interview with Q13 News, candidate Freed went on to say that “My true hope is that Jay Inslee just does that right thing and we don’t have to wait for the courts to make a decision."

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Ari Hoffman
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