Updated with comments from Gov. Jay Inslee during his Tuesday press conference and a statement from Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Adam Cornell.
Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney is making waves after he posted to his sheriff’s campaign Facebook page Tuesday night criticism of Gov. Jay Inslee’s approach to getting Washingtonians back to work in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.
In an open letter to “Snohomish County Residents and Business Owners,” Fortney — who was elected sheriff in November 2019 — said he watched Inslee’s Tuesday night speech and “I am left to wonder if he even has a plan.”
Fortney started out by stating that “this virus is very real and sadly, it has taken 97 lives in Snohomish County. This is a very serious issue and the appropriate precautions need to be taken to protect our most vulnerable populations.
“However, our communities have already shown and continue to show they understand the severity of the situation and are doing all they can already to keep themselves, their families and neighbors safe and healthy,” he added.
Fortney was also critical of what he sees as the state’s unfair decision-making regarding what is defined as a local business. “If this Coronavirus is so lethal and we have shut down our roaring economy to save lives, then it should be all or nothing,” he wrote. “The government should not be picking winners or losers when it comes to being able to make an income for your family. If the virus is so lethal it shouldn’t matter whether you are building a school for the government, building a new housing development, restaurant owner, or you happen to be an independent contractor.”
“To the contrary, if the virus is proving to not be as lethal as we thought, maybe it’s time for a balanced and reasonable approach to safely get our economy moving again and allowing small businesses to once again provide an income for their families and save their businesses.”
Fortney also reiterated his decision to not carry out any enforcement for the current a stay-at-home order. “As your elected Sheriff I will always put your constitutional rights above politics or popular opinion,” he wrote. “We have the right to peaceably assemble. We have the right to keep and bear arms. We have the right to attend church service of any denomination. The impacts of COVID 19 no longer warrant the suspension of our constitutional rights.”
Fortney’s post as of mid-morning Monday had drawn about 3,600 comments to his Facebook page. Some commenters were supportive, citing examples of how they had been personally impacted by the shutdown, while others were dismayed, noting that the sheriff’s statements directly contradict the advice of public health officials.
The Governor’s Office also weighed in, with Deputy Communications Director Mike Faulk issuing the following statement:”It’s unfortunate when elected officials promote illegal activity that puts their community’s well-being at risk. That kind of leadership can only lead to more people getting sick, more rumor and more insecurity, and with the end result being a protracted crisis we must continue to mitigate.”
During a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Inslee specifically talked about Fortney’s comments, noting that “we cannot have individual law enforcement officers arbitrarily decide which laws they are going to enforce and which they are not going to enforce.”
The governor also mentioned a statement by Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell in which Cornell said that “prosecuting attorneys and sheriffs carry a unique responsibility in our criminal justice system to serve as bulwarks to a civil society. Put simply, we are elected to serve under the laws not to act above them.”
In his statement, Cornell said that he also fears that Fortney’s statements “will be interpreted by some citizens around the state to grant license to willfully and blatantly violate the law.”
“Let me be clear: actions have consequences,” Cornell wrote. “State and local emergency proclamations are binding on all of us whether we agree with them or not. A violation of the law carries consequences and as county prosecutor I will continue to uphold my oath and exercise my prosecutorial discretion.”
— By Teresa Wippel