As of Dec. 11, the Greater Sacramento (blue), San Joaquin Valley (purple) and Southern California (yellow) regions will be under the state’s latest stay-home order.

Since the announcement last month of a curfew in most of California, more than 20 county sheriffs have issued public statements on enforcement of coronavirus restrictions.

Almost all of them have stated they will not be enforcing the rules — some in blandly official language, and others more contentiously.

The first to make headlines for his vigorous rejection of the directives was Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Johns. A seven-paragraph statement he issued on Dec. 3 included not-so-veiled jabs at Gov. Gavin Newsom and questioned the constitutionality of regulations. “I’m not going to put my officers in that position,” he concluded.

The statement was issued two days after Johns tested positive for coronavirus. On Dec. 9, he announced he had completed quarantine and was returning to work.

The rhetoric was taken to a higher pitch on Dec. 4 by Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco. He twice referred to unspecified state leaders as bullies and said: “The dictatorial attitude towards California residents while dining luxuriously, traveling, keeping their business open and taking their children to private schools is very eye opening about their attitude towards California residents, their true feelings about the virus and is extremely hypocritical. These closures and stay at home orders are completely ridiculous.”

Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims told reporters that state emergency officials, in a Dec. 7 conference call with sheriffs, had not voiced any expectation that deputies would be enforcing the coronavirus orders. Nor, she said, did any sheriff on the call express an interest in enforcing them.

Twenty-three counties were put under the state’s regional stay-home order on Dec. 6. Thirteen more will join them on Dec. 11.

Following are excerpts from statements of some of those counties’ sheriffs, taken from official social media accounts.

Greater Sacramento Region

Butte, Kory L. Honea, Nov. 20: “The thought of law enforcement officers peeking into the windows of homes, or stopping and questioning residents regarding their destination and family relationships, merely for being outside of their homes, or visiting the home of another during the nighttime hours, all solely due to the suspicion of violating the ‘Limited Stay at Home Order,’ is very troubling.”

El Dorado, John D’Agostini, Dec. 3: “The Sheriff’s Office unequivocally supports the message that individual responsibility is the key to keeping this virus under control.”

Placer, Devon Bell: “The Placer County Sheriff’s Office continues to take on an educational role during the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping public safety via law enforcement as its number one priority.”

Plumas, Todd Johns, Nov. 28: “I want to assure you that the basic laws which protect our freedoms are inviolable and this Office will not be formally involved in this order’s enforcement.”

Sutter, Brandon Barnes, Nov. 20: “The Sutter County Sheriff’s Office will not be taking enforcement action solely for violations of this order.”

Yolo, Tom Lopez, Nov. 20: “The Yolo County Sheriff’s Office will continue to focus our efforts on education. We encourage everyone to cooperate with the guidance set-forth by the state.”

Yuba, Wendell Anderson, Nov. 19: “We’re going to take the same tack that we’ve taken throughout the entire pandemic, and that’s an educational approach. Enforcement is not something that we wish to do, nor will we do. Our resources will be utilized for public safety.”

San Joaquin Valley

Fresno, Margaret Mims, Dec. 7: “I do not believe that we should be using our law enforcement resources when we really are busy with calls for service out there with criminal activity.”

Kern, Donny Youngblood, Dec. 8: “Leadership is not defined by issuing orders. Leadership is by example. … I’m going to do my part to slow the COVID spread down. What I’m not going to do, as a sheriff, is make criminals out of good citizens.”

Madera, Tyson Pogue, Nov. 20: “We will continue to devote our resources to responding to incidents with the potential for criminal behavior or impact to public safety.”

Merced, Vern Warnke, Dec. 8: “The Sheriff’s Office will continue to go after the criminals that are committing actual crimes. We will not be going after anyone gathering during the holidays. … We are all adults and by now everyone should know that COVID is real and knows the consequences of being reckless. … So far there is no data to support a curfew or closing of certain businesses as opposed to others. Schools are allowed to be open but not churches, where’s the data? I ask that everyone do what you can to protect yourselves and your loved ones.”

San Joaquin, Patrick Withrow, Dec. 5: “We will continue to show up and help in whatever way we can. … As always, we prefer to educate people and businesses that are out of compliance when possible, and help them achieve compliance. The bottom line is our community is struggling at this time and we, as always, will be partners in the solution so we can get through this.”

Stanislaus, Jeff Dirkse, Dec. 5: “We live in the land of the free. Our country was founded on this very principal and the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office will not arrest the members of our community for violating this order. We are not an authoritarian regime.Our Oath of Office requires that we support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Consitution of the State of California. Not the government or any member of it. So rest assured, you will not be arrested for violating this order. Our state has released over 25,000 major felons back into our communities due to COVID-19. We are not going to make criminals out of our citizens for the very same reason. … Today I ask you to choose wisely, as a free American, to do what you can to protect our community and those in it who are vulnerable.”

Tuolumne, Bill Pooley, Nov. 20: “Throughout the pandemic, the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office and Public Health has taken an education first approach with regard to the public health orders. We will continue to educate and encourage everyone to make the best decisions to keep themselves and their families safe.”

Southern California

Inyo, Jeff Hollowell, Nov. 20: “The Sheriff’s Office will not be responding to calls for service regarding gatherings, curfew violations, or masking calls.”

Los Angeles, Alex Villanueva, Dec. 3: “Since March we have continued to focus on education and voluntary compliance regarding health orders. Moving forward, we will additionally be conducting targeted enforcement on super-spreader events.”

Orange, Don Barnes, Dec. 5: “Compliance with health orders is a matter of personal responsibility and not a matter of law enforcement. To put the onus on law enforcement to enforce these orders against law-abiding citizens who are already struggling through difficult circumstances, while at the same time criticizing law enforcement and taking away tools to do our jobs, is both contradictory and disingenuous. As we have done throughout this pandemic, we must remain diligent in preventing the spread of the virus by following public health recommendations, like wearing a face covering and practicing social distancing. Conversely, policy makers must not penalize residents for earning a living, safeguarding their mental health, or enjoying our most cherished freedoms.”

San Bernardino, John McMahon, Dec. 4: “Our goal is to educate and gain voluntary compliance regarding Public Health orders. … Back in March, county departments collaborated and established an online reporting system for members of the public, including those choosing to remain anonymous, to report alleged violations of Public Health orders. … It is not our intent to utilize patrol personnel to respond to these allegations.”

San Diego, Undersheriff Mike Barnes, Nov. 21 (TV interview): “We’re not necessarily going out looking for these. We get enough complaints about it, and we’ll certainly respond. … A deputy sheriff shows up, really the last thing he wants to do is write a citation … for people who are doing things that most of the time are perfectly legal. But these orders exist for a reason and the deputies do have the discretion. If they need to write a ticket, they will write a ticket.”

San Luis Obispo, Ian Parkinson, Dec. 8: “Deputies will not be making traffic/pedestrian stops to determine the comings and goings of citizens during this time. … The Sheriff’s Office will take appropriate action on large gatherings which flaunt the order. … The Sheriff’s Office will not jeopardize the safety of this community and criminalize people who are trying to preserve their mental, physical, and financial health.”

Ventura, Bill Ayub, Dec. 6: “Deputies have not issued any citations or made any arrests for violations of the public health orders to date. Ventura County residents have shown a high level of compliance with the orders, and those who have violated the orders have reacted favorably when contacted by our deputies. … Our primary goal is to seek voluntary compliance whenever possible. We cannot police our way out of a pandemic.”

The full list of counties in the affected regions:

  • Greater Sacramento | Alpine, Amador, Butte, Colusa, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, Sierra, Sutter, Yolo, Yuba
  • San Joaquin Valley | Calaveras, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, San Benito, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Tulare, Tuolumne
  • Southern California | Imperial, Inyo, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura

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By Kelley Wheeler

Kelley Wheeler is a Metro reporter covering political issues and general assignments. A second-generation journalist, worked with all major news outlet, she holds a vast expeirience. Kelley is a graduate of USC with degrees in journalism and English literature. She is a recipient of Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

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