Some Triangle law enforcement officers not issuing citations for state COVID-19 rule violations

Diane Wilson Image
Friday, June 26, 2020
EMBED <>More Videos

While law enforcement has the authority to issue citations when it comes to state COVID-19 mandates, many North Carolina police departments said they're educating those violating the rules instead of citing them.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Starting Friday at 5:00 pm, it will be mandatory to wear a mask in North Carolina.

Phase 2 will also remain in effect, which means businesses have rules to follow, and gyms and entertainment centers are supposed to remain closed. However, many aren't following these rules when it comes to the state mandates on COVID-19, and it comes down to law enforcment actions.

Gyms, bars remain closed as Gov. Roy Cooper extends Phase 2 for 3 more weeks

While law enforcement has the authority to issue citations when it comes to state COVID-19 mandates under the Safer at Home order, many North Carolina police departments said they're educating those violating the rules instead of citing them.

When you enter Big Al's BBQ in Raleigh, you'll see this sign on the door: "There is no Goober Cooper government-mandated social distancing at Big Al's, feel free to eat wherever you like."

The owner didn't want to talk on camera but told ABC11 Troubleshooter Diane Wilson while they do take all of the sanitary and cleaning procedures inside the restaurant, they don't wear masks or require social distancing, as they wouldn't be able to stay open if they operated at just 50% capacity. He said he's been operating like this since inside dining was allowed, and law enforcement has not made a visit to his restaurant. He said customers are welcome to eat wherever they want, whether that be inside the restaurant or outside, as he wants them to be comfortable.

Some gyms are getting around Gov. Cooper's order that mandates they stay closed during phase 2. Several gyms are now open using a loophole that they can open as long as their members have a medical purpose for working out, for example, physical therapy. At Crossfit 15-501 in Chapel Hill, Hunter Collins, the general manager, said, "Whether that be PT, medical asthma, weight loss, etc, but also under HIPAA guidelines, we are not allowed to ask our members what that medical purpose is."

Meanwhile, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said they pass complaints about order violations to local law enforcement officers.

"NCDHHS gets feedback from a variety of sources on many different topics," a representative for the department said. "We respond to requests for information through our constituent services department, our social media channels, and through media partners like you. People who reach out to us with specific concerns about violations of an Executive Order are directed to local law enforcement."

But local police departments are mixed in how they enforce the order.

Apex Police Department is one of the few departments that even track complaints and have a log of the nearly 50 calls reporting alleged Stay at Home and Safer at Home violations--32 led to verbal warnings, two led to arrests. One of those arrested was Matthew Myers, the owner of the Apex Tattoo Factory. He was charged for violating Gov. Cooper's stay-at-home order after opening his tattoo shop, saying he was losing too much money staying closed.

The City of Raleigh said they have taken more than 300 calls related to alleged violations of the Stay at Home and Safer at Home orders. A spokesperson said each case is handled on a case-by-case basis, but the primary goal is to educate people on the governor's executive order and enforcement is the last resort. Raleigh Police Department said only one incident led to an arrest.

The Town of Cary said it's investigated 106 mask, social distancing, and store open complaints, but no citations have been given; instead, officials said they requested seven businesses to close because they were operating despite being non-essential, which according to Cary Police all seven did close their doors when asked.

When it comes to the Chapel Hill Police Department, a representative with the town says, "The Chapel Hill Police Department has not written any citations to date for violations of stay-at-home (previously) or face-covering compliance (current order). The goal has been and will continue to be to educate and encourage voluntary compliance of all of these public safety initiatives."

Durham Police Department said they have had no enforcement actions due to any complaints about violations of COVID-19 orders.

We do know the state will step in when law enforcement doesn't, for example, the state took the Ace Speedway in Alamance County to court, and a a judge ruled it must remain closed after it violated the executive order.