D.A. won’t prosecute mask violations, sheriff won’t enforce

Home News D.A. won’t prosecute mask violations, sheriff won’t enforce

By Catharin Shepard •

Staff writer •

Hoke and Scotland County District Attorney Kristy Newton doesn’t plan to prosecute any businesses for not complying with a statewide mandatory order to wear face coverings in public.

Newton announced her stance on the matter last week in a Facebook post.

“One thing that is not disputed is that our citizens and businesses have suffered great financial harm during the COVID crisis. As the District Attorney, I will not further harm the business community in my district by enforcing or prosecuting violations of this order. Let freedom ring…” she wrote.

Asked about his stance, Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin said in a message he does not plan to have deputies enforce the mandate, either.

District Attorney Newton, who is serving out her last term in office after choosing not to run for reelection, said she had been getting lots of questions about the face-covering mandate Gov. Roy Cooper signed last week. All North Carolinians, with exceptions for various circumstances, are currently required to wear a face covering in public places.

Under the mandate, law enforcement officers can cite businesses for allowing customers without face coverings inside their premises. Officers can also charge citizens with trespassing or causing a disturbance if they do not wear a face covering and then refuse to leave a store’s premises when asked to do so.

“You may be asked to leave a business if you refuse to wear a mask. If you do not leave when asked, you may be charged with trespassing. If you create a disturbance when asked about the mask or asked to leave, you may be in violation of other provisions of criminal law,” Newton wrote.

However, under the executive order, officers can’t arrest a person for not wearing a face covering in public.

“This order is NOT enforceable in any way against an individual who chooses not to wear a mask! The Governor made this order enforceable against businesses, not individuals!” the District Attorney wrote.

Cooper and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen announced the face covering mandate last week in response to rising numbers of new daily cases of COVID-19, and increasing numbers of people hospitalized for treatment of the virus. The state also paused in its reopening plans as the death toll continued to grow, with more than 1,300 deaths across North Carolina since the start of the pandemic in March.

“These concerning trends remind us that if left unchecked, the virus will continue to spread,” Cohen said in the announcement last week.

Studies are showing “overwhelming evidence” that wearing face coverings can help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Cooper said.

“We want to make our decisions based on the data,” he said.

The face covering can be any kind of covering of the nose and mouth that is secured to the head. It can be factory-made, sewn by hand or improvised from household items like a scarf, bandana, towel or t-shirt. The material can be any synthetic or natural fabric.

There are a number of situations where a person is exempt from the statewide mandate. The executive order does not require face coverings for – and a face covering does not need to be worn by someone who:

1. Should not wear a face covering due to any medical or behavioral condition or disability (including, but not limited to, any person who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious or incapacitated, or is otherwise unable to put on or remove the face covering without assistance);

2. Is under 11 years old;

3. Is actively eating or drinking;

4. Is strenuously exercising;

5. Is seeking to communicate with someone who is hearing-impaired in a way that requires the mouth to be visible;

6. Is giving a speech for a broadcast or to an audience;

7. Is working at home or is in a personal vehicle;

8. Is temporarily removing his or her face covering to secure government or medical services or for identification purposes;

9. Would be at risk from wearing a face covering at work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulations or workplace safety guidelines;

10. Has found that his or her face covering is impeding visibility to operate equipment or a vehicle; or

11. Is a child whose parent, guardian, or responsible person has been unable to place the face covering safely on the child’s face.

Additionally, Newton wrote, people do not have to show proof that one of the exceptions applies to them. 

“You cannot be required to show proof that an exception applies if you claim it. All you have to do to avoid the requirement to wear a mask is say you have an exception and no one can require you to show proof that you have documentation of the condition,” she wrote.

If a person claims an exception and does not wear a face covering, a business owner might offer an “alternative method of service” like curbside or delivery service. A business owner may or may not allow a person who is not wearing a mask to go inside the business. It is the business owner’s decision, Newton said.

“It is up to the business owner,” she wrote.

For additional information, see Newton’s post online at https://www.facebook.com/KristyNewtonforDA.

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