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Sheriff in Washington State says he won’t enforce governor’s stay-at-home order, calls it unconstitutional

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Christine Clarridge

The Seattle Times

Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney said he believes Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-home order is unconstitutional and he won’t enforce it.

In a post on his Facebook page Tuesday night, Fortney said he was worried about the economy and residents’ ability to make a living.

“I believe that preventing business owners to operate their businesses and provide for their families intrudes on our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he wrote, paraphrasing the Declaration of Independence. “As your elected Sheriff I will always put your constitutional rights above politics or popular opinion.”

Fortney argued that the stay-home order, which aims to slow the spread of the coronavirus by barring people from gathering, violates Washingtonians’ First Amendment rights to religious exercise and peaceable assembly.

The post, Fortney wrote, was prompted by a Tuesday evening news conference in which Inslee laid out a road map for reopening Washington’s economy that could soon allow the return of some elective surgeries, outdoor recreation and construction projects. The governor stressed that the timing of that reopening will depend on the state’s progress on key public-health indicators.

After watching Inslee’s address, the sheriff wrote that he “wondered if he even had a plan.” He said he’d wanted to defy the order two weeks ago but “decided to wait out of respect for the Governor and my own misguided hope that each day he did a press conference he would say something with some specificity on getting Washington back to work. After what I witnessed tonight I can no longer stay silent as I’m not even sure he knows what he is doing or knows what struggles Washingtonian’s (sic) face right now.”

Representatives for Inslee could not be immediately reached early Wednesday.

The post, which appeared on a page representing Fortney’s campaign for sheriff and not an official Snohomish County social-media channel, had garnered about 4,000 likes, 2,000 loves, 66 angry emojis and 2,300 comments as of 7:20 a.m. Wednesday.

In Snohomish County, 2,152 people have been confirmed to have COVID-19, including 99 who have died, according to the state Department of Health. Snohomish County is home to the United States’ first known case of the novel coronavirus, a man who was diagnosed in mid-January and has since recovered.

“This is a very serious issue and the appropriate precautions need to be taken to protect our most vulnerable populations,” Fortney wrote. “However, our communities have already shown and continue to show they understand the severity of the situation and are doing all they can already to keep themselves, their families and neighbors safe and healthy.”

Fortney cited other sheriffs in Washington state who also won’t enforce the order but didn’t name them.

Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond has come out against the stay-home order, as have the commissioners of Franklin County, where 207 people have been infected with the coronavirus and four have died.

It isn’t the first time Raymond has refused to enforce a state law he saw as unconstitutional; he took a similar stance against Initiative 1639, a gun-safety measure approved by Washington voters in November 2018.

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