In the wake of a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases throughout California, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered a statewide curfew “requiring generally non-essential work, movement and gatherings stop between 10 PM and 5 AM in counties in the purple tier.” The following day, several California county sheriff offices such as Sacramento, Madera, and the Emerald Triangle’s very own Mendocino County issued public statements assuring constituents deputies would not be enforcing the curfew.
Currently, two of three Emerald Triangle counties are in the purple tier, Mendocino and Trinity. According to the State of California’s Blueprint for a Healthy Economy, this means the COVID-19 virus is considered widespread within those counties.
Humboldt is currently in the red tier but could soon be designated as purple, according to the county’s Public Health Officer Dr. Teresa Frankovitch who stated last week “[T]he trend that we’re seeing is alarming and it is very likely to land us in the purple tier in short order.”
On Friday, November 20, a statement issued on the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page stated, “Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office will not be enforcing compliance of any health or emergency orders related to curfews.”
In a conversation with Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall, he stated that law enforcement was not the correct mechanism to implement the curfew. He characterized the Governor’s curfew orders as “too ambiguous to be enforceable.” Even if the order was enforceable, Sheriff Kendall said his agency is busy investigating criminal matters and bringing justice to victims.
,Ultimately, Sheriff Kendall appealed to Mendocino County residents’ sense of communal duty when addressing COVID-19: “We all live by an unwritten rule,” he said. “[W]e look out for our fellow man. You’ve got to look out for your family, friends, and community. I want people to continue doing that.”
Regarding enforcement of the curfew, Trinity County Sheriff Tim Saxon said his department would “focus on education and self-compliance rather than enforcement.” Sheriff Saxon recognized that the curfew was “directed toward the segment of our society that continues to congregate without taking a common-sense approach to protecting themselves and others from the spread of the virus.”
Both Sheriff Kendall and Sheriff Saxon expressed concern that strict enforcement of the curfew could result in, as Sheriff Saxon put it, violations “of the Constitution related to unreasonable searches in order to see if someone is not complying with the Limited Stay At Home Order.”
Citing the Fourth Amendment, Sheriff Kendall said his deputies must have “probable cause” when detaining a citizen and was concerned that loosening these requirements to enforce the curfew could be a slippery slope leading to what he characterized as further degradation of constitutional rights.
Sheriff Saxon emphasized that “Absent any reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, there would be no cause to go into a private residence or stop a vehicle to ascertain the household status of the members within during these restricted hours.“
When asked why his agency chose to issue a statement rather than not enforce the curfew quietly, Sheriff Kendall said, “If we don’t say something, we’re going to get 20,000 phone calls that we have to address individually.”
Mendocino County Public Health Officer Dr. Andy Coren faced questions during the county’s COVID-19 press conference on Friday, November 20, about MCSO’s unwillingness to enforce the curfew. Dr. Coren stated that the position taken by the Sheriff’s Office was “not in consultation” with him or public health. But, he said, he also recognized that a deputy arresting citizens for non-compliance would “not be good for the community.”
Social Services Director for Mendocino County Bekkie Emery said in the press conference that since the pandemic, MCSO and Code Enforcement personnel had worked together to enforce pandemic protocols, always emphasizing education over punitive measures.
Dr. Coren asserted that since the beginning of the pandemic, the county’s enforcement efforts have been primarily educational, and the curfew is the same: “ I’m going to emphasize: this is citizen enforcement. We know what protects ourselves.”
Sheriff Saxon reminded Trinity County residents if they have a concern regarding a business not complying with any pandemic protocols, they could “contact Cal/OSHA, or Alcoholic Beverage Control.”
Dr. Coren said Mendocino County residents who have concerns regarding non-compliance with COVID-19 protocols to contact the county’s call center at (707) 472-2759.
We reached out to Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal about HCSO’s perspective on curfew enforcement. Public Information Officer Samantha Karges told us any questions regarding COVID-19 had to be processed by Humboldt County’s Joint Information Center and said she hoped to have a response to us by this Wednesday.