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Denton County Sheriff Tracy Murphree says Abbott's mask order is contradictory

Denton County Sheriff Tracy Murphree said last week that the sheriff’s office will not enforce the new mask mandate issued by Gov. Greg Abbott.

The Governor issued the executive order last Thursday afternoon, mandating people cover their nose and mouth in public in counties with more than 20 COVID-19 cases. Many studies have shown that wearing masks can help reduce the spread of the virus.

Murphree said that the sheriff’s office is too busy working other cases, and he also believes the Governor overstepped with the order.

“I don’t have the time or manpower to worry about whether people are wearing masks or not,” Murphree said. “I believe the Constitution trumps everything, and I believe in personal responsibility.”

Murphree said that personally, he will comply with the order, but he has instructed deputies specifically to not enforce the mask order. He worries that the order “invites chaos.”

“Business can require a mask, and people who don’t want to wear a mask don’t have to go to those businesses,” Murphree said. “I think people will rebel and purposefully try to go into establishments without masks. When people are told to do something that violates their civil rights, it invites chaos and protest.”

As far as area town police departments are concerned, education is the first step when it comes to enforcing the mandate.

Murphree posted more details about the mandate on his FaceBook page after a petition to oust him stemmed from not enforcing Gov. Greg Abbott’s face mask mandate. But, he says the order’s contradictory wording is prohibiting him from enforcing it.

“A week ago they were carrying signs that said F the police, and demanding police be defunded. They were ignoring the Denton curfew order and blocked city streets. Now those same people are mad at me for refusing to enforce the mask mandate issued by the Governor. Their hypocrisy is mind blowing Please read the following taken directly from the order:”

‘Local law enforcement and other local officials, as appropriate, can and should enforce this executive order, Executive Order GA-28, and other effective executive orders, as well as local restrictions that are consistent with this executive order and other effective executive orders. But no law enforcement or other official may detain, arrest, or confine in jail any person for a violation of this executive order or for related non-violent, non-felony offenses that are predicated on a violation of this executive order; provided, however, that any official with authority to enforce this executive order may act to enforce trespassing laws and remove violators at the request of a business establishment or other property owner.’

“This is an executive order not a law. Only the legislature can make law. So the accusations that I’m refusing to enforce the law are not true. See where it says.” ‘Local law enforcement and other local officials, as appropriate, can and should enforce this executive order.’ “Nowhere does it say ‘shall’. The Governor is a former Attorney General - he knows the difference in can and should vs. shall in the legal world. Now this line - ‘But no law enforcement or other official may detain, arrest, or confine in jail any person for a violation of this executive order.’ “Once again the Governor knows what detain means. If I stop you for speeding you are detained, if I stop you on the street for littering you are detained. Even if I’m just issuing a warning. So according to the order I am not allowed to detain you for not wearing a mask. So I can’t even stop you and talk to you about not wearing a mask, I can’t tell you to come with me while we discuss your failure to wear a mask. I certainly can’t arrest you or put you in jail. There is no way to know who has had a warning and who hasn’t. If you tell me you have a medical condition I can’t ask for proof. The order is not a law, there is no requirement that any police officer enforce it, and it’s unenforceable. We can’t spend our time running from place to place for calls about mask, we can really do nothing about. Like I said I will comply because I want to comply. I won’t and I don’t believe I can take any enforcement action on this order. I do believe I have sworn to uphold the constitution and I will do so.” Here’s a little scenario for you. Mr. Smith is not wearing a mask in violation of the order. I’m called and I confront Mr. Smith. I tell Mr. Smith he’s getting a ticket and I need to see his identification. Mr. Smith is now detained and not free to go. I have now violated the same order I’m accusing him of violating. Let’s say I write Mr. Smith a ticket. Mr. Smith then doesn’t show up for court and doesn’t pay his fine. Now the judge issues a warrant for Mr. Smith. Now what do I do? A warrant says you shall arrest Mr. Smith, but the order forbids me from arresting or jailing Mr. Smith. Now what? I don’t know you tell me. This executive order hereby prohibits confinement in jail as a penalty for the violation of any face-covering order by any jurisdiction.” Sheriff Murphree, who lives in Sanger, had a tremendous amount of support in the comments section of the FaceBook post.

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