Sheriff Mark Essick clarifies decision to not enforce Sonoma County health order

ByWayne Freedman and J.R. Stone KGO logo
Saturday, May 30, 2020
Sheriff says he won't enforce Sonoma County health order starting June 1
Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick says he won't enforce the county health officer's orders come June 1.

SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- For most of Friday, it seemed that only the Sonoma County sheriff knew for sure whether he would enforce coronavirus health restrictions.

On Thursday, he said he would not.

"A mom and pop floral shop is unable to operate but a Safeway floral shop is, and that is unfair."

Friday, small business owners like Berlin Fisher who owns a salon in Guerneville, applauded the decision.

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"I think he did something courageous. He has courage."

ABC7 heard opposite reactions from local police chiefs and city officials.

"I don't know why he did it. What motivated him," said Supervisor Shirlee Zane. "I just think the timing is really awful and I am really disappointed."

ABC7 asked Santa Rosa Police Chief Rainer Navarro for comment on the situation.

"I will not," the chief said.

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Around noon, another twist in the story.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors announced that after meeting with the health department and other elected officials, Sheriff Essick had changed his mind.

Then, radio silence from all concerned.

It became more confusing when, in a Facebook post, the sheriff's department denied agreeing to a reversal.

ABC7 asked for clarity in a briefing late this afternoon with the Health Department and Board President Susan Gorin.

Health Director Barbie Johnson sounded somewhat vague.

"I am very hopeful and grateful that we are moving together in a positive way to make sure that we are aligned as we move forward to protect the county," she said.

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ABC7 questioned her use of the word, "hopeful."

"I am certain that we are moving together in a positive way to make sure we are protecting the health and well-being of all community from COVID-19."

But, no one declared outright whether Sheriff Essick had changed his mind.

Moments later, the statement from the sheriff's department which reads in part, "There was a commitment from all parties to increase communication and inclusion in regular collaborative meetings...All involved affirmed a strong commitment to the health and wellness of Sonoma County residents."

Those were the words. Now, we'll wait to see the actions.

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