Nacogdoches County Sheriff Jason Bridges took to social media again Wednesday to address his position on the statewide mask order and his plans to address violators.
The most recent video by the sheriff released via Facebook came after national media picked up on his earlier comments on the ordinance and, Bridges said, misconstrued his statements.
“We are going to tell you what the law is,” he said. “If we keep seeing the same person over and over violating the law, you painted us in a corner. We’re going to do our job. We’re not going to defy any order that comes from our governor.”
Bridges said comments he made in an earlier live video about the governor’s ordinance were misconstrued by national media, which often quoted a July 3 video he released.
In that video, Bridges aired his concerns over the ordinance and pointed out what he considered problems with it, including that it put an impossible burden on law enforcement to track everyone warned about the mask violations.
“We would have to keep a database to keep track of what warnings we issue to people,” Bridges said.
Bridges also raised concerns about a portion of Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that allows law enforcement agencies to use gatherings of more than 15 people as probable cause to enter private property and issue masks warnings or citations.
“Your sheriff’s office is not going to do that. If we have other reasons to be on somebody’s property, such as a criminal call, and we see a violation of the governor’s orders we are going to point it out,” Bridge said in the July 3 video.
Legislators, including state Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, have asked the governor to call lawmakers back to Austin to address concerns over masks requirements and other issue during a special session at the Texas Capitol.
A special session could create problems of its own as it would bring lawmakers from all parts of the state into close quarters. The Mississippi Legislature is currently in session, and 26 state lawmakers, including the speaker of the house and lieutenant governor, had become infected with the coronavirus as of Thursday morning.
Abbott had made no announcement about calling legislators back to the capitol as of Thursday morning.
On Wednesday, Bridges read portions of the governor’s July 2 order, citing language that specifically bars him from arresting anyone for violating face covering rules.
“This executive order hereby prohibits confinement in jail as a penalty for the violation of any face covering order by any jurisdiction. No law enforcement or other official may detain, arrest or confine any person in jail for a violation of this executive order,” he read, noting that stopping someone is considered to be detaining them.
In Wednesday’s video, Bridges said he intends to meet with the managers of major businesses in the area to discuss the ordinance with them, as well as their rights in responding to violators.
Since the ordinance, he has received at least one call about a local business not enforcing the rule. After a conversation with the store’s manager, Bridges said he expects they will be in compliance with the ordinance.
“We want people to wear masks in Nacogdoches County. We do not want to have to write citations. I do not believe in that,” he said Wednesday. “I haven’t taken that off the table. Understand that. I never said that. But that’s the last ditch effort.”
He said the sheriff’s office will make signs available to businesses that want them that will advise customers of the law on wearing masks in public places.
Abbott’s order, issued on July 2, allowed for a $250 citation to be issued to anyone not wearing a mask while in businesses or public buildings and public outdoor spaces where social distancing is not possible. The order specifically excludes children younger than 10 and anyone with a medical conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask. People eating and drinking or exercising outdoors are also exempted.
Abbott’s order applies to most of the the state, but is not in effect in counties with fewer than 20 cases of the virus. Before issuing the order, Abbott repeatedly pointed to the diversity of population density in Texas’s 254 counties. Harris County is the third most populated in the United States with around 5 million residents. Three West Texas counties are among the five least populated places in the country.
Staff writer Josh Edwards contributed to this report.