Sheriffs reject Thanksgiving home checks

Joseph Spector, John Christensen
New York State Team, The Chronicle-Express

Governor rips sheriffs for refusing to enforce his executive order

Gov. Andrew Cuomo criticized county sheriffs who are vowing to not enforce the state’s new 10-person limit on private gatherings during the holiday, saying it is not up to them to pick and choose which laws they like.

Some sheriffs across upstate have rejected Cuomo’s order last week that bans in-house gatherings of more than 10 people heading into Thanksgiving, saying “living room spread” of COVID-19 is a serious problem as the virus surges across the nation.

Cuomo

“I don’t believe as a law enforcement officer, you have a right to pick and choose what laws you will enforce,” Cuomo said Wednesday at a Coronavirus briefing at the state Capitol, saying an executive order has the weight of the law. “ ’Well, I don’t believe in that law and therefore I won’t enforce it.’ That is frankly frightening to me as an individual, frightening to democracy. It’s arrogant, and it violates your constitutional duty.”

Sheriffs across the State said they do not believe they have the right to enter people’s homes and break up holiday parties, nor do they think they should.

Spike

“The Governor’s Executive Order 202.74, limiting gatherings in private homes to no more than 10 people, raises many problematic issues for local law enforcement, said Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike. “Having legal standing is suspect on this enforcement. It appears to be unconstitutionally vague, and not a criminal act, therefore we have no practical way to enforce. Also, enforcement raises serious Constitutional questions; serious issues about the right of people to privacy in their homes, the right to be free from warrantless searches, the right and freedom to assemble, the right to freedom of religious practice, the right to equal treatment under the law, and the right to have criminal conduct clearly defined by law are all implicated by the Executive Order.”

Spike assured citizens, “Our Deputies will not be counting vehicles in driveways, nor peeping into windows to count persons in order to break-up a home gathering.”

Spike lays the responsibility to follow the limitation with the people. “Given this pandemic period, I encourage all citizens to be responsible, and use their own best judgment on large gatherings in one’s home, and especially on masking, social distancing, and sanitation to stay safe and healthy as they celebrate gathering traditions or not.”

Spike wasn’t the only sheriff in the state questioning how to enforce the rule.

Steuben County Sheriff James Allard said in a statement, “We are regulated by the legal guidelines of our response to complaints as to whether or not we have license and privilege to enter private residences, based upon a warrant, consent or exigent circumstances. As such, the men and women of the Steuben County Sheriff’s Office will not be peeking in your window or attempting to enter your property to count the number of persons at your table on Thanksgiving.”

“I have no plans to utilize my office’s resources or deputies to break up the great tradition of Thanksgiving dinner,” Timothy Howard, the sheriff in Erie County in Western New York, said.

Cuomo said he’s not asking them to do that. But he said if they receive complaints or happen upon large groups inside for the holidays, they should try to break up the parties.

“Nobody is saying knock on doors, count heads, right?” Cuomo continued. “But you come across a gathering for one reason or another and there are 20 people there, you say, this can’t happen. By the way, states all across the nation are doing this.”

New Jersey and Connecticut are among the states limiting indoor private gatherings to 10 people or less as COVID infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise in the Northeast and across the U.S.

Cuomo predicted the numbers will only grow after Thanksgiving, imploring residents to limit their festivities and warning that even your own family in your own home can bring the virus in.

“This living room spread is a new problem. And it will go up after Thanksgiving,” Cuomo said.