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Sheriff: ‘We are not under martial law’

Sheriff: ‘We are not under martial law’ Sheriff: ‘We are not under martial law’

Rest assured, if you’re out and about during the state’s “Safer At Home” COVID- 19 period, you don’t have to worry about looking up in your rear-view mirror to see the pulsating red-and-blue lights of a police squad checking to see where you’re headed.

Unless, of course, you’re breaking a law. Then, nothing has changed.

Clark County Sheriff Scott Haines said this week that some protocols for law enforcement have changed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but potential violation of citizens’ constitutional rights isn’t among them. The cops will not stop residents just because they’re out in public, he said, and will work to educate people involved in any gatherings about the potential risks rather than fine them.

“We are not under martial law,” Haines said. “You will not be stopped without reasonable suspicion that a violation of the law has occurred. The same standard existed prior to this order. You will not be detained or questioned as to why you are leaving your house or questioned as to if the purpose of your travels falls under the essential travel portion of the order.”

The sheriff’s department has been fielding questions from the public regarding potential enforcement of the governor’s order for people to stay at home to slow the coronavirus spread. Haines said the order’s purpose is to battle the pandemic, not declare a police state. One misconception that has spread is that people who are on the road need a work permit or pass to be out in public. “I’m not even sure where that information’s coming from,” Haines said. “In the state of Wisconsin, it’s not required. Really nothing has changed as far as law enforcement goes. Unless we see a blatant violation of the order, the Constitution of the United States is still in place.”

Haines said his officers have been instructed to minimize contact with people and to maintain social distancing when possible, but that does not mean drivers have a free pass to speed or run stop signs. Deputies are still on the job, making stops when the situation is warranted.

“Those kinds of things we’re still going to enforce,” he said. “We’re not going to stop people to question them as to why they are leaving their homes.”

As for the portion of the governor’s order that limits gatherings to 10 people or less, Haines said the sheriff’s department is not actively looking for crowds, but it will send a deputy to investigate if it receives a call of a possible large gathering. If an officer does find a group of people, Haines said his/her main emphasis will be to inform people of the order and its purpose.

The sheriff’s department has also somewhat modified the operation of the county jail in Neillsville. It recently released five inmates who were serving time under the Huber law, which allows them to leave custody for a portion of each day for work. Those furloughed inmates will be called back to the jail to finish their sentences in June, or whenever the coronavirus spread eases.

Haines said it was deemed too risky to have the Huber inmates circulating in public, returning to the jail after possibly coming in contact with someone with the virus, and then spreading it to other inmates.

“That’s the last thing we need,” he said.

The jail population was at 36 inmates as of March 26, and that’s a number that varies daily depending on new sentences and others finishing theirs. The jail will continue to take new inmates as arrests are made and court sentences are handed down. New inmates will be evaluated for any illness upon admittance and observed for a period of time afterward to make sure they are healthy.

Clark County had seven non-county inmates in its jail as of last week. The county rents jail space to other counties with jail overcrowding issues, but will not take any new outside inmates until the crisis eases.

“We’re not taking any new ones until we get through this period,” Haines said.

In a statement to the public, Haines noted that the orders recently set in place by Gov. Tony Evers are for the public’s benefit, even though they may curtail some individual freedoms.

“It is true our individual rights are certainly being restricted,” he said. “These rights are being restricted at the recommendation of medical health professionals for the greater good of all, so that others may live. This is a community effort that requires cooperation from us all. We ask the people of Clark County to voluntarily comply with the “Safer at Home Order” issued by Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers so that together we can get through these difficult times. I understand and appreciate the great personal sacrifices being made to accomplish victory. I struggle with this concept, as the United States Constitution is a constant reminder of our foundation. It is not a document that gives us rights, it preserves them. We are committed and dedicated to protecting your constitutional guarantees. This order has not suspended the United States Constitution or the constitution of the state of Wisconsin.”