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Michigan sheriff says he'll respond to people not wearing masks, but won't enforce fines

The Detroit News

A west Michigan sheriff clarified a statement about not enforcing all executive orders from the governor, saying his office will defer complaints to the state police but respond for disorderly or noncompliant people who won't leave a business, "even though we are not enforcing" potential fines attached to the order.

"I have received some feedback that leads me to believe that not everyone understands why this decision was made," said Van Buren County Sheriff Dan Abbott on Saturday, two days before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's enhanced mask-wearing mandate goes into effect.

"First of all, I am a constitutional sheriff as well as a proponent of making sure people's civil liberties and rights are not violated. With that being said, a lot of the executive orders that have been issued are in question, starting at the state level all the way down to local government."

Abbott said Whitmer's executive orders lead to "serious discussion regarding the enforcement of them between me and the command staff, so the decision to enforce or not does not come lightly."

Abbott said his office defers questions or complaints about the orders to the state police or Attorney General's Office.

Under the new order issued Friday, masks must be worn in crowded outdoor spaces when a person is "unable to consistently maintain a distance of 6 feet or more from individuals who are not members of their household."

Dan Abbott

Business, starting Monday, that are open to the public are banned from providing service and entry to customers not wearing masks.

Violations of the order carry a misdemeanor fine of $500. Businesses that don't follow the requirement could have their licenses suspended.

Abbott also cited a pending lawsuit by lawmakers over Whitmer's orders.

"We will defer complaints of non-face mask wearers to the state police, but we will respond to address disorderly or non-compliant individuals that have been asked to leave a business and won't," Abbott said.

He said his office was not discouraging anyone from wearing masks. "We are not encouraging anyone to go against CDC guidelines," he said. "We completely support what the CDC recommends.

"... I hope this clarifies that even though we are not enforcing the executive order of giving fines to people who are not wearing a mask in public, the Sheriff's Office fully supports CDC guidelines of wearing a mask and it is our hope that everyone will follow them so we can get past this pandemic.