Some Michigan law enforcement agencies say they won't enforce Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive orders meant to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The orders have enraged the Republican-controlled legislature and led to armed protests as some residents grow impatient over statewide restriction measures and business closures.
In a letter Monday, Shiawassee County Sheriff Brian BeGole said his agency won't actively enforce the mandates, the Detroit Free Press reported.
"I have decided, within my authority, that our office cannot and will not divert our primary resources and efforts towards enforcement of the Gov. Whitmer's executive orders,” he said.
BeGole's letter comes after a barber in Owosso, a city in Shiawassee County, reopened his business in defiance of an order closing nonessential businesses with armed militia members standing guard outside. His license has since been suspended by the state.
Four sheriffs officials in a northern part of the state -- Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich, Benzie County Sheriff Ted Schendel, Manistee County Sheriff Ken Falk and Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole -- said in April that the Democratic governor had overstepped her authority.
"We will deal with every case as an individual situation and apply common sense in assessing the apparent violation," they said in a joint press release. "Each of us took an oath to uphold and defend the Michigan Constitution, as well as the US Constitution, and to ensure that your God given rights are not violated. We believe that we are the last line of defense in protecting your civil liberties."
In Livingston County, Sheriff Mike Murphy said he will not enforce Whitmer's stay-at-home order in response to a gym owner who reopened Monday and confusion over the legality of the order.
"Obviously he’s chosen to open. We’ve been working in concert with the [county] health department as well as the [county] prosecutor’s office since this thing started," Murphy said told the Livingston Press & Argus. "The way things are right now, we basically decided to not do any enforcement. We’re asking people to voluntarily comply. But there are questions about the legality of the order right now."
The Detroit Police Department has issued more than 730 citations over a two-week period in April, in addition to 1,000 warnings, the paper reported.
Most police departments are choosing to educate and get voluntary compliance rather than issue citations or making arrests, Bob Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police and a former Livonia police chief, told the Detroit Free Press.
Lansing police are also handing out warnings and educating suspected violators about the mandates. If there are repeat offenders, a report will be made and sent to prosecutors for review.
Attorney General Dana Nessel last week issued a letter with guidance to law enforcement agencies that affirmed Whitmer's mandates are enforceable and valid.
"The absence of these restrictions would open gateways for the virus to reach every family and social network in every part of the State," Nessel wrote.
Whitmer's office has been besieged by criticism, death threats and a series of demonstrations against her executive orders barring certain businesses from operating and rules dictating where residents can travel to. She extended her emergency declaration order weeks ago following a demonstration where protesters stormed the state Capitol building in Lansing.
A judge will hear arguments Friday on a lawsuit filed by GOP state lawmakers to declare the orders invalid.