Sonoma Sheriff Takes Exception to Health Orders

by Placerville Newswire / May 28, 2020 / comments

[Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick]

Letter to Sonoma County Residents,

I am writing to you as your elected Sonoma County Sheriff-Coroner. Over the last few weeks, I have heard from many people expressing concern with the perceived overreach of the Sonoma County Public Health Orders and their inconsistencies with our neighboring counties and Governor Newsom’s Public Health orders. I have consistently heard the message that Sonoma County’s Public Health Orders are far more restrictive than the Governor’s Order’s despite the fact that our COVID-19 infection rate is low compared to other counties. With over 23,000 tests conducted, Sonoma County has seen a declining rate of positive tests, from 3% three weeks ago to 2.2% today. As a community we have experienced 4 deaths; I do not want to minimize this fact as any loss of life is tragic and sad.

The first Public Health Order and subsequent Public Health Orders have placed significant restrictions on our freedoms we were not accustomed to in a free society. Most people complied with the Health Orders because they believed, as did I, that the Health Orders were the best solution to the unknown and potentially dangerous situation we were facing with COVID-19.

Over the last 10 weeks we have learned a lot and made significant progress. The curve has been flattened; hospitals were not overrun with patients; we have dramatically increased testing which verified the infection rate in Sonoma County is under control and decreasing. Yet we continue to see successive Public Health Orders that contain inconsistent restrictions on business and personal activities without explanation. Based on what we have learned, now is the time to move to a risk-based system and move beyond blanket orders that are crushing our community. Simple universal measures can be taken to protect the vulnerable among us and to slow the spread of COVID-19 within Sonoma County. Understanding your risk of infection and consulting with your doctor or health care provider on what prevention measures are best for you is a personal responsibility each of us must take.

Over the last several weeks, I have asked for more information and transparency from our Public Health Department and our Public Health Officer to explain why, with such a low infection rate, we have not moved to a less restrictive, risk based system. I firmly believe the public must be kept informed so we can develop effective public policy and our elected officials can make informed, evidence based decisions, balancing risk against the catastrophic impacts of the Shelter in Place order on our community. Unfortunately, the Public Health Department and the Public Health Officer have ignored my requests and the requests of the media to provide desperately needed information. This lack of transparency and lack of engagement is incredibly disappointing at a time when all levels of government should be working together.

As your elected Sheriff, I can no longer in good conscience continue to enforce Sonoma County Public Health Orders, without explanation, that criminalize otherwise lawful business and personal behavior. Effective June 1, 2020 I am directing all Sheriff’s Office staff to discontinue the enforcement of the Sonoma County Public Health Orders issued by the Sonoma County Public Health Department and the Public Health Officer. Reports of violations, when brought to our attention, will be evaluated against the California State guidelines on a case-by-case basis. Where appropriate, the Sheriff’s Office will use public interactions as an opportunity to educate people on how to mitigate the risk and spread of the COVID-19 infection. Pursuant to this shift in policy, I am directing the Sheriff’s Office Detention Division to refuse the booking arrest of individuals whose sole booking charge is for a violation of the Sonoma County Public Health Order. It is important to understand my decision does not affect enforcement policy or enforcement decisions by other law enforcement or regulatory agencies in Sonoma County; it applies to Sheriff’s Office operations in the jurisdictions we serve.

As an organization, the Sheriff’s Office has rapidly adapted with new operating procedures and protective measures to meet the health needs of the public, our employees and their families. The Sheriff’s Office staff will continue to utilize PPE (personal protective equipment) and other protective measures aligned with California State guidelines. Our detention division has worked tirelessly to prevent COVID-19 from infiltrating our jail, keeping our inmates safe and healthy. Those in law enforcement have educated themselves on these complex and ever changing Sonoma County Public Health Orders. They have exhibited compassion and discretion while interacting with members of the public, assisting those who are unsure or confused on what they can or cannot do under the Sonoma County Public Health Orders. As always, our team of over 650 men and women has impressed me with their commitment and dedication to helping the people of Sonoma County through difficult situations. As your Sheriff, I have been incredibly proud of their efforts and I hope you are too.

Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick.