SWEETWATER COUNTY — Governor Mark Gordon yesterday announced new restrictions meant to quell the spread of COVID-19 including a statewide face mask requirement.
The face mask order is identical to Sweetwater County’s local order. It requires a person to wear a face covering in private businesses, government buildings, medical facilities, public transit, and taxi and rideshare services, as well as when entering or exiting a restaurant, bar or gym.
In response, Sweetwater County Attorney Dan Erramouspe and Sweetwater County Sheriff John Grossnickle today announced that they remain firm in their assessment that the mask mandate as written is unenforceable under the law.
“We encourage everyone to thoughtfully consider their friends, family and neighbors as we navigate the uncertainty of this pandemic. We’re all in this together, and we have to continue to work together to get through it, Grossnickle said.
“While my personal feelings on the topic are well known at this point, wearing a mask is not the issue here,” Grossnickle continued. “The issue is that this public health order is unenforceable from a law enforcement perspective because it doesn’t allow our deputies a way to separate those who are exempt from the mask requirement from those who are willfully violating it.”
Section 8(e) of the Statewide Public Health Order #4 states: “A person is not required to provide any documentation or explanation demonstrating that the person cannot wear a face covering for any medical condition, mental health condition, or disability.”
While the decision to arrest is often the responsibility of law enforcement, the decision to file formal criminal charges is the sole responsibility and discretion of the county attorney’s office.
“The American Bar Association Standards for Prosecution states that a prosecutor is ethically bound to file charges if they reasonably believe the charges are supported by probable cause, that “admissible evidence” exists to be sufficient to support a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt and that the decision to charge is in the interests of justice,” said Erramouspe.
Erramouspe continued, “So, in order to successfully prosecute a mask mandate case, the prosecution would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person not wearing a face covering does not suffer from a medical or mental condition, or disability, that prohibits them from doing so. How can we prove that if the order itself prohibits the investigation and collection of evidence into this exception?”
Both Erramouspe and Grossnickle remind everyone that their position on this issue is a reflection of their ethical obligations as elected officials and not a statement regarding the validity of face coverings in alleviating the spread of COVID-19.