Sheriff says enforcing shutdown calls for ‘discretion’

Johnson is waiting for court decision regarding challenge of governor’s Safer at Home edict
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press staff

Ozaukee County Sheriff Jim Johnson says his deputies have not issued any citations or made any arrests of people violating Gov. Tony Evers’ Safer at Home order.

And probably won’t, he said.

The governor’s order was issued in response to the Covid-19 outbreak and classifies some businesses and workers as “non-essential,” limiting their operations and telling people to stay home.

Some Wisconsin sheriffs have openly defied the governor’s order and say they will not enforce it.

“I can not in good faith participate in the destruction of Racine County businesses or interfere in the freedoms granted to all of us by our Constitution,” Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said in a statement following the new order’s issuance.

Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt posted a message on Facebook saying he is concerned with the constitutionality of Evers’ order, which went into effect on March 25 and was extended to May 26. 

Schmidt has directed his staff to let him know if businesses are not in compliance and to contact him before forcibly closing a business or making an arrest.

“Fortunately, I have received zero phone calls from my deputies needing to take enforcement action,” Schmidt wrote.

Other law enforcement officials have declared they will enforce the stay-at-home directive, including Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth.

Asked last week what he would do if a “non-essential” businesses reopened ahead of Evers’ planned Badger Bounce Back plan, Johnson said: “We’d have to talk with the business owner.”

He wouldn’t elaborate when pressed by a reporter.

On Facebook last week, Johnson said his department will use “discretion” in enforcing Evers’ order.

“I have received several inquiries from citizens in regards to the emergency declaration orders from the governor’s office,” Johnson wrote. “I understand the frustration that the pandemic and the resulting orders have caused; we feel the same frustration professionally and personally. 

“As sheriff, I’m sworn to uphold laws and protect the constitutional rights of all citizens. I’m aware that the governor’s orders are being challenged in court and until I receive a legal decision, we will continue to exercise the same level of discretion as we do in the enforcement of all laws.” 

In an interview last week, Johnson said his office had 18 complaint calls from citizens and deputies had issued “a couple verbal warnings.”

“The complaints were mostly unfounded — social distancing concerns at parks but turned out to be family groups; groups of kids were playing in parks but they were gone by the time we arrived. Things like that.”

Deputies have helped control traffic at Lion’s Den Gorge County Park in the Town of Grafton, which has been drawing large crowds, but no citations have been issued there. Johnson said deputies have not had to assist county personnel at other parks.

“We had some people walking on the county golf courses, but they didn’t know they were closed,” he said.

Courses at Hawthorne Hills and Mee-Kwon opened on Friday.

Johnson said the county public health department also can issue citations or submit referrals to the District Attorney’s Office.

The Republican-held legislature has filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court claiming Evers, a Democrat, violated state emergency rules by extending the order past 60 days without the Legislature’s approval.

The injunction would last for six days to allow the DHS time to put together a new Emergency Order.

Last week, the Ozaukee Washington Public Health Department released the draft of a “blueprint” for reopening the counties. It was reviewed on Friday by the Ozaukee County Board.

“I think they have come up with a very, very careful plan that both protects those individuals that are most vulnerable, but also protects the rights of those individuals who need to provide for their families,” Martin Schulteis, Washington County sheriff, said.

In the meantime, Johnson said he is “looking for voluntary compliance. People are extremely cooperative and respectful. There have been no issues.”

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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