ROCK SPRINGS — Sweetwater County Sheriff John Grossnickle released a public letter today, readdressing his stance on the enforcement of the current mask mandate.
The letter reads as follows:
“In the past couple of weeks, I have received an overwhelming amount of support, some criticism and a lot of questions asking me to elaborate on my position regarding our local mask mandate.
On Friday afternoon, while out of the office and spending time with family and friends, I received the following question from a journalist from the Rocket Miner newspaper: “Following revisions in the Sweetwater County mask mandate and our rising positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, what is [your] present stance on the mask mandate?”
As it turns out, this journalist went to press with his article only a few hours later before I had the opportunity to respond. I would like to take the opportunity to respond and address everyone now.
I strongly believe that it is our job as peace officers not only to enforce state statute but also to respect and protect the civil liberties of everyone. As an elected official, I feel it is critical to be as transparent as possible on my stance on relevant issues related to my duties as sheriff.
Obviously, masks are a hot button topic across the country. Right or wrong, masks have become a highly
Personally, I believe wearing a mask is an individual choice and that mandating masks without the consent of voters is contrary to the Declaration of Rights in the Wyoming Constitution. I stand by that conviction, and I will not apologize for it.
With the community at large so split about the dangers of this virus, rest assured, as your sheriff, I will not
waffle, and the dedicated men and women of Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office will not be manipulated,
bullied or used as muscle in the enforcement of an executive action made unilaterally without involvement
from community stakeholders or elected officials by an appointee unrepresented by and unaccountable to the voters and residents of this county.
But the story does not end there, and I refuse to be misrepresented on this controversial issue. My personal beliefs notwithstanding, in consultation with the county attorney’s office, we have concluded that the local mandate as written is unenforceable from a law enforcement perspective as a criminal offense given some of the exceptions and language contained in the order itself.
As an example of just one of several ambiguities contained in the order, in defining those who are exempt from wearing a mask, section 8(e) of the Sweetwater County Public Health Order 2020-4 specifically 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.”
So, from a practical standpoint, how are our deputies supposed to determine whether someone is willfully failing to abide by the order, or if they have a condition that prevents them from wearing a mask, since they are not required to provide any documentation or explanation proving they cannot wear a mask? It is my determination that if people excepted from the order are not required to provide proof that they meet one of the exceptions in the order, then there is no actionable mechanism for law enforcement to reasonably differentiate those who are exempt from following the order versus those who are willfully violating it.
For those who have asked, our deputies have been following CDC recommendations since March, and, yes, we are voluntarily abiding by the mask mandate while on duty and in uniform. We are doing this because it is the right thing to do, and we want to help. We are also enforcing trespassing laws when someone ignores a business owner’s request to wear a mask or leave. We are doing this because it is our duty to enforce state law.
That said, I reject outright any implication that concluding our mask mandate as written is unenforceable under the law is somehow a perverted endorsement of people acting recklessly and without due regard for one another or our community’s healthcare system. On the contrary, as has been our position from the beginning, the sheriff’s office is asking and expecting Sweetwater County residents to act responsibly and do what they can to protect themselves and their families from contracting the virus and from overwhelming our local hospitals.
Following the advice and recommendations of medical experts is acting responsibly. Practicing social
distancing, wearing a mask when distancing is not possible, washing your hands often, and staying at home when you are sick are all reasonable ways of acting responsibly amid this pandemic.
As a community, we must continue to focus our efforts on encouraging everyone to make health decisions
based on your own personal circumstances including your exposure to and interaction with those vulnerable to suffering complications from this virus. As citizens of this county, state and country, we also must remind ourselves that our rights and privileges do not diminish or supersede the rights and privileges of others nor do our rights and privileges excuse any of us from extending care, compassion and respect to one another as friends and neighbors.
It is not just about masks. Mutual respect and personal responsibility cannot be mandated, and I know without doubt that our citizens have the intelligence and integrity to recognize and appreciate the difference.”