Law enforcement has always been a discretionary activity. How many of us are the beneficiaries of a cop in a good mood who pulls us over for speeding but lets us off with a warning?

Conversely, how many innocent people — or violators of minor infractions — have been subjected to the cruel neglect or intentional actions of a rogue officer?

Sheriff Ronnie Fields knows of the discretion he and his deputies exercise every day. Yet in his latest cross-up with an order from Gov. Roy Cooper, discretion has not been the better part of valor for Fields.

As Moore County’s top enforcement officer, he is looked up to for guidance, for fairness, for justice. He blew it on all three counts last week when he declared he would not enforce Cooper’s latest order mandating the wearing of face coverings in public places where social distance is not possible.

In an email sent out Friday evening — while most folks would be paying attention elsewhere — Fields wrote, “To be direct and clear, neither I nor the members of the Moore County Sheriff’s Office will be enforcing this mandate from the governor.”

Where’s the Guidance?

Fields declared the governor’s latest order “unconstitutional.” Which constitution, Sheriff? The U.S. Constitution? The state’s? Or your own? Nothing is cited.

In an interview with The Pilot, Fields said he acted under guidance from the N.C. Sheriff’s Association. It issued a 13-page memo last Friday. In that memo, under the section titled “Enforcement of Face Covering Violations,” the memo goes on to say that, “Under current law, whether or not to charge a person with a criminal law violation of the Governor’s Order requiring the wearing of a face covering is within the discretion of law enforcement.”

Nowhere in the 13-page memo is the word “unconstitutional” used.

Fields also says in his email that “the order itself is unenforceable.” Again, the Sheriffs Association guidance doesn’t make that judgment. In fact, it clearly states, “Executive Order No. 147 authorizes law enforcement officers to charge a business that refuses to comply with the Executive Order’s requirement that employees and customers or patrons wear face coverings. Any business refusing to comply with the Executive Order could be charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor.”

Now, “unenforceable” from a practical standpoint? Yeah, we can see that. But so is making sure a car comes to a complete stop at a stop sign, unless you post an officer or camera there.

‘Be Thoughtful’

Fields is not alone in his position. Aberdeen Police Chief Carl Colasacco also told his officers not to go out of their way to enforce the ordinance. But if they are called to a complaint from a business or individual, “we will respond,” he said.

Fields said the same thing in an interview, but the email he sent to the public was “direct and clear.”

Fields, who has had a road deputy test positive for COVID-19, is not insensitive to the public health concerns: “I encourage everyone to practice social distancing and we should all continue to keep our hands very clean.”

As we said at the start, law enforcement is discretionary. Fields could have adopted his position and instructed his deputies the same but not sent out a news release. In doing that, he politicized a police matter, confusing everyone thoroughly and alienating a significant number of people who voted for him two years ago.

“Take care of each other and be thoughtful,” Fields concluded in his email. “Together, we make a difference in Moore County.”

The good sheriff should heed his own advice. Take care of everyone — not just those who equate masks with “tyranny” — and be more thoughtful to the larger public health issue. And make a positive difference instead of a divisive one. Remember, Sheriff: Discretion is the better part of valor.

(10) comments

Sally Larson

Why can't people just get over their so-called "rights" and be part of the solution, not the problem? If you'd just do your part this state may re-open sooner than later but not until you cooperate.

Comment deleted.
Jim Tomashoff

What a smug, arrogant, selfish excuse of a human being is Kent. Masks are to keep the wearer from infecting others you interact with. What Kent is arguing is his unalienable right to infect and possibly kill another human being while he demonstrates his indifference to anyone else's basic right to live. Losing Kent to Covid-19 would illustrate Social Darwinism in action. Losing an innocent human being to Kent's mendacity should be an actual go to prison kind of crime. No one will shed a tear should that happen one day.

Frank Staples

How interesting, the voices of the left wanting law enforcement in Moore County to take their time away from fighting drugs and other worthwhile crime and start writing tickets for what is essentially less than parking in a wrong spot...a total waste of time as these tickets will be thrown out of court immediately as a waste of the court's time! Get a life demmies, Cooper is simply doing what YOU want him to do in destroying small businesses so it can be blamed on trump and the right!

Kent Misegades

The quickest path to bankruptcy for a newspaper is to become a shill for Democrats. Cooper blew it on multiple counts: (1) swallowed the junk science behind CDC recommendations, which has been consistently wrong on nearly everything; (2) ignored laws requiring consent of the council of state on his edicts; (3) appearing in public without a mask at close quarters with protesters led by an organization run by admitted Marxists who threaten to “burn down the system” if they don’t get what they want. Add to this his complicit support of deranged lunatic anarchists destroying public property with no consequences. Three strikes - you’re out.

William Dean

Just one more voice of a concerned citizen to say that the governor has violated his oath of office and the North Carolina laws in taking under his office all of these orders that MUST first be approved by the Council Of State to be lawful. If the Lt. Governors suit is successful, then many people and businesses will be able to sue the Governor and state.

Peyton Cook

The Constitution of the United States is violated. Amendment I gives the right “of the people peaceably to assemble”. Governor Cooper has responded to virus like many other Democrats. One size fits. There is no law requiring people to wear mask in public. In this case he should have strongly urged all to wear masks when in public when coming in contact with others, and urged all businesses to require masks. This is not a law enforcement matter, as no one is violating any laws.

Stephen Woodward

All of Cooper's executive orders were unconstitutional from day one. Cooper did not receive the required support of the Council of State before proclaiming the March 17 lockdown. The NC Constitution requires this. Pilot editors easily could have researched this glaring sidestep but facts too often disrupt your narrative. So you ignore them.

Jim Tomashoff

"In its current form, the Council of State meets periodically, with the Governor as chair, to allow for coordination and exchange of information across executive branch agencies and to vote on certain decisions, especially regarding the sale of government property or the borrowing of money." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_Council_of_State

Are you an attorney? Do you see or read into this definition any requirement that the Governor MUST receive the support of the Council before proclaiming the "lockdown"? Seems like the Councils primary function is administrative, coordinating policy decisions throughout the state government's various departments to facilitate the enactment of said policy. Nothing seems to suggest that a sitting governor must receive the affirmation of the Council before taking a state-wide action designed to save peoples lives in an emergency. If you can find contra-indicating language in the State Constitution I'm willing to stand corrected. Can you?

Stephen Woodward

Jim,

The basis of Lt. Governor Dan Forest's recent lawsuit filed to challenge the Governor's authority points to the Council of State in relation to the state's Emergency Management Act. I am not a lawyer but Mr. Forest's suit was crafted by lawyers. The announcement included the following: "This lawsuit is not interested in the substance of Governor Cooper’s orders. It specifically addresses his lack of authority under the Emergency Management Act to shut down North Carolina without the concurrence of the Council of State. ... I am asking the court to invalidate Governor Cooper’s unlawful executive orders that continue to shut down parts of our economy until he receives the concurrence of a majority of the Council of State as required by law."

Jim Tomashoff

Thank you Stephen for your prompt response. I guess we'll have to see what the court rules.

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