ENERGY — A letter that was intended just for Energy citizens and business owners has the village’s police chief answering a lot of questions.
In a letter dated April 24, Energy Police Chief Shawn Ladd laid out the following regarding Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 executive orders and his department:
“With a long-held belief in the rule of law and order and an obligation to preserve the peace and protect the lives and property of the people, we are also honor bound to protect the people we serve from tyranny and government overreach in pursuit of these goals.
“The Village of Energy, Illinois, and by proxy, the Village’s Departments and Agents hold no interest in any enforcement activities concerning any rules, regulations, declarations or proclamations that are morally or technically in violation of the provisions of the United States Constitution or the Constitution of the State of Illinois.”
In March, Pritzker ordered nonessential businesses closed and implemented a stay-at-home order for residents, mandating that travel be limited to essential travel only — things like the doctor’s office and groceries. They also limited gatherings of more than 10, forcing many churches and religious groups to find other ways of congregating.
Pritzker has been praised by many for the direct action taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19, which, in recent months, has left hundreds of thousands dead worldwide. And, others think a few of the orders are broad government overreach. Ladd falls into that camp.
Ladd spoke Monday with The Southern about the letter, which he said has garnered far more attention than he thought it would. Ladd said he’s had local business owners asking him a lot of questions about how they should proceed given Pritzker’s executive.
“(Given) the contradictory information that people are being flooded with, I wanted my citizens and my business owners to know … Energy isn’t essentially picking sides one way or the other,” Ladd said, adding that he hoped it would provide guidance on the issue on how business owners should proceed regarding these orders.
Ladd said it is his understanding, after much research, that there is nothing requiring him or his officers to enforce the executive orders, especially when he sees some orders that violate either the state or U.S. constitutions.
“There’s nothing in the constitution of the United States, there’s nothing in the constitution of the State of Illinois and there’s nothing in the ordinances of the City of Energy,” to support criminal enforcement of the executive order, Ladd said.
“He can make suggestions,” he said of his understanding of the governor’s powers in an emergency.
One document Ladd used to back up his decision was an internal memo issued by a lead member of the State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor’s Office. The memo, dated April 21, was from Chief Deputy Director David J. Robinson to Director Patrick J. Delfino. In it, he writes that he is not sure courts would uphold Pritzker’s limitations on restaurants, bars and public and private gatherings.
He writes that the state’s Emergency Management Act, among other things, gives the governor the ability to “perform and exercise any other functions, powers, and duties as may be necessary to promote and secure the safety and protection of the civilian population.”
In his memo, Robinson said the governor’s actions “must be narrowly tailored to the compelling State interest.”
Summarizing his opinion, Robinson wrote: “My research leaves me less than confident that a reviewing court will hold that the Governor has the authority (to) close businesses, (bars), attendance at church services and assemblies in excess of ten citizens.”
Sheila Simon, an assistant professor of law at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, wasn’t so sure of Ladd’s or Robinson’s position.
“My thoughts are that the governor does have emergency powers and they are pretty broad,” she said.
Simon said, in her estimation, the clause cited by Robinson actually gives the governor a lot of leeway.
“It does seem to be tailored to keeping us from harming each other,” she said of Pritzker’s COVID-19 orders, adding that until she’s proven otherwise, this is her takeaway. “Until we get a result of a case that says that the governor doesn’t have this power I’m assuming the governor does have power.”
As for the local enforcement of any violations of these orders, Simon did see it as a local law enforcement issue — but maybe not one that needs to be a ticket. She said an officer needs to use discretion to find the best way to ensure their communities are behaving safely, per the governor’s executive order.
When asked about whether it would be the one to enforce local law enforcement’s implementation of the governor’s order, a representative of the Illinois State Police wrote the following, noting the ISP’s role as community caretakers.
“Local law enforcement and county health departments will typically be on the front lines of this mission which is geared toward ensuring public safety. While the goal is voluntary compliance, citizens should be aware that non-compliance with the Executive Order can result in criminal and civil sanctions,” the representative wrote.
In his conversation with The Southern, Ladd also took issue with the logic of some of the directives given in the governor’s orders.
“The recommendations don’t make sense,” Ladd said.
He questioned why people can crowd into grocery stores but not get a haircut.
When he’s asked by locals about who would enforce the order and should a person start their business back up, Ladd has said, “That’s between you and the governor. It will not be the Energy Police Department.”
Not all of the items in the order Ladd takes issue with because “not all parts of the governor’s order are unconstitutional.” He said he could even get behind a mandate that residents wear masks.
“We want people to be safe. We want them to be healthy,” Ladd said.
But, he said, he was not prepared to violate the oath he took to become a police officer — one to uphold the constitution. If he is wrong, he said, the governor can send state law enforcement to come tell him.
Ladd said he understood the incredible pressure state officials are under. But he questioned a statewide order.
“One size does not fit all,” he said, echoing local lawmakers’ request that the governor take a regional approach to the COVID-19 fight. He said the pandemic in Southern Illinois does not look like it does in Chicago.
“There is no crisis at hand, so-to-speak” he said of hospital overcrowding.
He’s not alone in his thinking — sheriffs in Perry and Johnson counties have recently made similar points online and through the media. The City of Harrisburg is even considering a wholesale reopening of the city during its meeting Tuesday.
Ladd was firm in his conviction and said he had the support of his mayor, too. He said he is enforcing the law as he sees it.
“The governor is making judgement calls,” Ladd said. I guess I am, too.”
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