If you want to report a violation of Ralls County’s recently enacted Stay at Home ordinance, don’t call the Sheriff.

In a news release Friday from the Ralls County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Gerry Dinwiddie and Chief Deputy Ronald Haught explained that the ordinance requested by the Ralls County Health Department and passed Thursday by the County Commission does not make violations of the ordinance a criminal offense. This means the ordinance is not enforceable by the Sheriff’s Office or any Missouri law enforcement agency.

Sheriff Dinwiddie says the Sheriff’s department agrees with the intent of the ordinance, but emphasizes there is no state law giving any law enforcement agency the authority to enforce any Stay at Home order, either statewide or local.

The sheriff says, since the enforcement action requested in the ordinance is civil and not criminal, violations of Ralls County’s Stay at Home ordinance should be reported to the Ralls County Health Department, who can forward the complaint to the State Health Department for possible civil action.

Here is the Press Release issued Friday by Sheriff Dinwiddie and Chief Deputy Haught:

Although the following is long, please take time to read this thoroughly and in its entirety as the Sheriff and I want to be clear, in conveying to you our position, on a matter which affects all the citizens and visitors of Ralls County.

Friends, in this time of uncertainty, virtually every person’s daily life, both in the short and long term will be affected by COVID-19.  Please know, every deputy and staff member at the Ralls County Sheriff’s Office are no different. We also have the same concerns in our personal lives and for our families as each of you reading this. Make no mistake, COVID-19 has dramatically affected the manner in which our deputies have been forced to approach their daily law enforcement duties. These changes, some of you may notice, when a deputy speaks to you from a distance, does not extend their hand to you in friendship or enter your home when not necessary, however, the level of protection and enforcement they will provide to you and your family will not wavier. This is our promise to you.

On April 6, 2020, Missouri Governor Michael L. Parsons “Stay at Home Order” for the State of Missouri, took effect.  There has been some confusion regarding the implementation and enforcement of this order.  The Ralls County Sheriff’s Office certainly encourages compliance with the Governor’s order, as we feel it truly is in the best interest of everyone, especially the elderly and anyone with an underlying health issue.  However, the enforcement of this order must be accomplished within the framework of the Constitution of the United States and the State of Missouri, as well as other established laws of the State of Missouri.

On April 9, 2020, the Ralls County Health Department Director, Tanya Taylor and Board President Eddie Joe Hammill, appeared before the Ralls County Commission, petitioning them to adopt a county ordinance, which would require the Ralls County Sheriff Office to issue summonses to persons and business owners for violations of the Governor’s Stay-at-Home Order.

The Ralls County Sheriff’s Office agrees with both Governor Parsons statewide order and also with the intent of the Ralls County Health Departments requested county ordinance. However, no matter what the intent of the ordinance, the enforcement action requested by the Ralls County Health Department, is civil in nature and not a criminal matter. Therefore is not enforceable by the Ralls County Sheriff’s Office or any Missouri law enforcement agency.

Allow us to explain the reasons why:

There is no Missouri state statute or other legal mechanism in place that gives authority to, or requires any Missouri law enforcement, agency issue to a summons or make an arrest for violating the Governor’s order. This is made very clear in the Governor’s Order, as well as in the Revised Statutes of Missouri.  The Governor’s Order itself reads “this order shall be enforced by the Health Department (civil authorities).  The same goes for any ordinance passed by the Ralls County Health Department.

The Ralls County Commission is within its authority to pass any ordinance they deem necessary, however, there is no county-level court system, in which to process any violations of a county ordinance.  Although many of you may be familiar with the term “Ralls County Associate Circuit Court”, this is merely a jurisdictional reference.  Our court system is a state-level circuit court and they only hear cases regarding state law violations.

In the state of Missouri, Ralls County is defined as being a “3rd Class” county as are most counties within the state of Missouri.  By state statute, “3rd Class” counties do not have the authority to enact their own criminal ordinances in the same manner as cities or 1st Class counties may (with or without Charter Forms of Government).  Because of our unique proximity to neighboring states, you may have likely seen on the local news law enforcement in other states arresting people for violations of another state’s orders related to this matter.  More plain language – their state laws are written to allow that enforcement.  Ours are not.

Please understand the Ralls County Sheriff’s Office is working for you 24/7. We participate in numerous virtual meetings at the state, regional and federal levels with officials from numerous agencies to make sure we are staying on top of this rapidly evolving matter. We have increased the number of deputies on patrol and are doing everything we can to ensure that Ralls County is safe, but we will never knowingly violate the oath that each of us has taken to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution and Laws of Missouri.

So, with all of that said, please do not misunderstand our position on this matter. We encourage compliance and we are not endorsing flagrant violations of this order, but whether we like it or not, the law simply does not empower us to take criminal enforcement action in “orders” handed down by any civil authority.

Citizens who observe violations of the Governor’s Stay At Home Order or the Ralls County ordinance are asked to report it to the Ralls County Health Department 573-985-7121. The Ralls County Health Department has a mechanism in place which will allow it to forward violations to the State Health Department for possible civil action such as a cease and desist letter or other actions.

Please stay safe, continue to limit non-essential travel, and practice social distancing as ordered by the Missouri Governor.

Respectfully,

Sheriff Gerry Dinwiddie & Chief Deputy Ronald Haught Jr.