At least three North Carolina sheriffs say they will not enforce a mask mandate announced by Gov. Roy Cooper (D) on Wednesday afternoon.
Under the mandate, people in the state must wear masks in public places, both indoors and outdoors, and while in situations where staying six feet away from people not in the same household is not possible.
Cooper’s executive order goes into effect Friday, June 26, at 5 p.m.
But there are already some sheriff’s departments that say they will not enforce the order.
“I certainly encourage people to be careful and take safety precautions, however, your Sheriff’s Office will not be taking enforcement actions against people or businesses for not wearing masks,” Halifax County Sheriff Wes Tripp wrote in a now-deleted Facebook post. “The wearing of a mask is a personal decision, not one of a governor in Raleigh.”
Jimmy Thornton, a sheriff in Sampson County, said Cooper’s executive order is both “unconstitutional” and “unenforceable.”
“My deputies will NOT enforce an executive order that I feel violates the constitutional liberties of citizens,” Thornton said. “I am not encouraging negligence, but I would like to reiterate that it is not the Sheriff’s duty to enforce health-related mandates unless court ordered by a Judicial Official or the Legislature.”
Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes also chimed in with similar remarks, writing on Facebook that, although he encourages people to be cautious, his office “will not be taking enforcement actions against people or businesses for not wearing masks!”
Masks will be required for all retail and restaurant employees and customers, as well as workers in the construction, manufacturing, meat processing, and agriculture sectors.
There are some exceptions, including for those with medical conditions, children under the age of 11, people who work from home, and people who walk and exercise outside when they are not within six feet of others.
Law enforcement personnel cannot criminally enforce the mask order against individuals unless a business or organization refuses entry to someone who refuses to wear a face covering, and that person does not comply. Only then can law enforcement enforce trespassing laws.