US Counties Defy Stay-at-Home Orders to Protect Civil Liberties: ‘We Like Our Bill of Rights’

By Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya reports on wide range of issues. Her area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. She has reported from the very volatile India-Pakistan border and has contributed to mainstream print media in India for about a decade. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her key areas of interest.
May 8, 2020Updated: May 10, 2020

As some county officials across the United States defy state stay-at-home orders and small-business owners begin reopening businesses during the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus lockdowns, sheriffs and experts say such decisions are driven by issues of civil liberty, and reopenings should be based on specific on-the-ground realities.

In the past few weeks, three counties in California, two in Arizona, and one in Washington state have reportedly begun defying governors’ orders to either reopen segments of their economies before the states’ scheduled dates or refusing to arrest citizens found defying lockdown orders.

County officials defying orders in various ways include those in Modoc, Yuba, and Sutter in California, Mohave and Pinal in Arizona, and Franklin County in Washington state. Additionally, there are reports about small businesses around the country deciding to reopen before their states give the OK.

Such actions of defiance are related to the issues of individual sovereignty and liberty, Cully Stimson, a senior legal fellow at the Institute for Constitutional Government at The Heritage Foundation, told The Epoch Times in a telephone interview.

“We’re sort of free-spirited people. We like our freedom. We like our liberty. We like our Bill of Rights. And that’s whether you’re a liberal or conservative. This has nothing to do with politics,” he said.

Epoch Times Photo
Activists hold signs and protest the California lockdown due to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic, in San Diego, Calif. on May 1, 2020. The protesters’ demands included opening small businesses, churches, as well as support for President Trump. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

So when Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb decided not to enforce Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s stay-at-home order, he had the same thoughts in mind.

“As a sheriff, my first job first and foremost is to protect the Constitution,” Lamb told The Epoch Times.

“I felt like this was a time when we had to take a stand and protect people’s freedoms and their ability to go out to peacefully assemble and live their lives. And as the Declaration of Independence says the life, liberty, pursuit of happiness,” he said.

He added that while he’s not asking people to not follow the governor’s orders, he’s not citing and arresting them.

“I still encourage people to follow the guidelines. So if I get a call, I’m going to go out to that call. And we’re going to just continue to educate people. I do not think that making criminals out of innocent people or citing business owners who are already under extreme amounts of pressure and stress, we don’t find that to be conducive,” he said, adding that he’s looking at the “legal challenges faced on the constitutionality of it.”

Sheriff Adam Fortney of Snohomish County in Washington state, who in a Facebook post on April 21 condemned and refused to enforce Gov. Jay Inslee’s lockdown orders, has found himself at the center of a storm of opinions.

While more than 4,000 people have signed a petition on seeking his recall for his refusal to enforce the lockdown, his supporters have campaigned and raised more than $37,000 on GoFundMe after the Snohomish County prosecutor refused to defend him from the recall effort.

Meanwhile, Martin “Modey” Hicks, the mayor of the small New Mexico city of Grants, vowed to defy the statewide lockdown order of fellow Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, after 81 business owners signed a petition requesting that he and the city council approve a resolution to allow local businesses to reopen.

Epoch Times Photo
Mayor Martin Hicks talking to reporters about reopening businesses in the small New Mexico city in defiance of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s statewide lockdown on April 22, 2020. (KOAT-TV/AP)

Reality Varies by County

Lamb said the reopening of the counties can’t be determined by the gross number of CCP virus infections and deaths across the whole state. He gives the example of counties in Arizona that have very few deaths but are under the same kind of restrictions.

“And a lot of those counties are very rural. And, you know, shutting them down for two months. Most of those businesses probably won’t reopen, or at least a good percentage of those businesses probably won’t reopen,” said Lamb, adding that it is important to assess the situation in each county, especially the remote ones, when states are seeking to impose lockdowns or reopen the economy.

Data analysis by the Heritage Foundation supports Lamb’s opinion. As of May 4, 30 of the nation’s 3,007 counties reported more than 50 percent of the overall U.S. cases of infection and more than 57 percent of the deaths, according to the analysis by Norbert J. Michel, the director of the Center for Data Analysis. Fifty-two percent of the counties have reported no deaths, 14 percent have reported only one death, and another 14 percent have reported two to five deaths.

Modoc County, a rural county in California that continues to have zero confirmed cases, allowed its bars, restaurants, and churches to reopen on May 1.

Modoc County Sheriff Tex Dowdy said in a statement on Facebook on May 3 that the county will continue to be cautious and follow guidelines and to reopen “safely, smart, and slow.” He said 80 percent of the land in the county is public lands and the recreational spaces on that land aren’t yet open to the public.

Heritage’s Stimson said the reality on the ground drastically varies from county to county in each state, which means the actual adherence to lockdown orders also may vary from county to county and even from neighborhood to neighborhood.

He gave the example of Montana and said except for the two main population centers, Billings and Bozeman, the rest of the state is sparsely populated.

“So if you’re 800 miles away, in a county far from Bozeman or Billings, in rural, rural, rural Montana … are you really going to listen to the governor’s stay-at-home orders when your closest neighbor is 10 miles away,” Stimson said.

He questioned the validity of lockdowns in any sparsely populated rural county where, for example, only 50 people might live in a 500-square-mile area.

Epoch Times Photo
A person buys produce at a drive-through farmer’s market in Baton Rouge, La. on April 25, 2020. Due to the threat of COVID-19, the farmers market has adapted to a drive-through format to minimize contact. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“I mean, please, do they actually need to stay at home? Or should they go out on their farm? They should go out and farm. So do they have to listen to the people in their state who base their decisions on fact to match the threat,” Stimson said.

Lamb says that while everyone is focusing on the health care situation, he also must manage the public safety concerns that arise.

“What about the people who are home, who are out of money and are stressed, bills stacking up and worse, responding to domestic violence calls, the neighbor problems, to a suicidal subject,” he said. “And we’re putting my deputies at far greater risk in responding to those calls. The intensity of those calls has been elevated.”

Better Communication Needed

As states start to reopen in stages, there’ll be a need for constant communication between state administrations and the counties to be able to take realistic decisions, Stimson said. That’s a way to avoid one-sided approaches about where to extend the lockdown and how and where to reopen.

“One thing I can say with confidence is the governors need to be in constant communication with the counties in their state,” he said. “They have to be realistic and not taking a one-size approach, but also listen to the federal government and the health care data, and focus on where the actual cases of coronavirus are and who is actually at risk.”

He said communication is an essential part of the relationship between county and state governments, and how a republic functions.

“I think it has to be a constant feedback loop,” Stimson said. “The constant process of listening and talking and gathering facts and adjusting along the way.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.