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Wis. sheriff will not enforce stay-at-home order, says it will have ‘dire lifetime consequences’

Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said his department will leave the investigation and enforcement of public health orders to the state health department


Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling issued a statement saying his department would not enforce the statewide stay-at-home order.


Jim Owczarski and Sophie Carson
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

RACINE COUNTY, Wis. — Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling issued a statement saying his department would not enforce Gov. Tony Evers’ safer-at-home order and said the “overreaching measures” would have dire consequences.

Evers extended the safer-at-home order until May 26 in an effort to continue to slow the spread of the coronavirus throughout the state. The decision was met with opposition from Republican leadership in the state Legislature.

“The overreaching measures taken by State government will have dire lifetime consequences for businesses, homeowners, and families,” Schmaling’s statement reads.

“I took an oath to uphold the constitutional rights of our citizens and I can not in good faith participate in the destruction of Racine County businesses or interfere in the freedoms granted to all of us by our Constitution,” he continued.

The city of Racine on Friday reported it reached a new peak in daily cases, with 11 new cases and one death on Thursday.

The city had 77 confirmed cases and three deaths, and the county reported 163 cases and eight total deaths — including two new deaths Friday.

Nearby Milwaukee County reported more than 2,000 cases and 111 deaths from the virus.

Schmaling said his department “will continue to concentrate our resources and efforts at keeping our roads safe and protecting our citizens from criminal activity” but will leave the investigating and enforcement of public health orders to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Schmaling said he believes Racine County businesses can individually make the “appropriate adjustments in the way they operate” to ensure the safety of workers and patrons.

“I understand the seriousness of the current health situation and I urge all Racine County citizens to continue to be responsible and to follow the social distancing, mask and hygiene recommendations of the CDC and the Wisconsin DHS,” he said.

Racine officials pushed back against Schmaling on Friday evening, issuing statements urging residents to obey Evers’ order.

Dottie-Kay Bowersox, Racine public health director, said she understood the economic hardships facing businesses but the order was essential to ensure the health of the entire community.

“It is concerning and alarming that Sheriff Schmaling would be unsupportive and defiant of the extended ‘Safer at Home’ order,” Bowersox said in a statement. “The actions come in response to the best available science and data from the CDC and local public health officials.”

“The fight against COVID-19 is not over and how we respond in the coming days, weeks, and months will determine whether or not we will be successful,” she added. “Undermining this effort adds confusion to the public which imposes unnecessary risk to many residents.”

And in a statement Racine Mayor Cory Mason said the safer-at-home order will help flatten the curve.

“The only way we can do that is to do it together. If we stay home we will save lives,” Mason said.

State Rep. Greta Neubauer, who represents Racine County, said in a statement Friday afternoon that she was “disappointed” in Schmaling’s decision and that residents must continue to follow public health experts’ advice.

“The evidence shows that Safer at Home is working, and while this is incredibly difficult for our community, we must not rush this process,” Neubauer said. “We must continue to ramp up our testing and our PPE production, so that we can trace new infections and protect our essential workers before ending Safer at Home in May.”