KNOX COUNTY, Ind. (WTHI) - According to Indiana's mask mandate, not wearing a mask is a Class B misdemeanor. Many area law enforcement agencies say they won't be enforcing it.
Washington and Loogootee police departments both released similar statements. Both say that "the refusal or failure for any one individual to wear a mask in public does not constitute a crime". Both ask for residents to be respectful of each other regardless of their support of the mandate.
Prosecutor Dirk Carnahan's Full Statement on Governor Holcomb's mask mandate
"Governor Eric Holcomb has mandated the use of masks in all public indoor spaces and outdoor spaces when social distancing is not possible. The governor’s statement says that failure to comply will be a crime, specifically a class B misdemeanor. A class B misdemeanor is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1000.
Attorney General Curtis Hill promptly issued a legal opinion that the Governor does not have the authority to criminalize the refusal to wear a mask without an act of the legislature.
Following these actions, I have been contacted by law enforcement officers and citizens who are asking how this mandate will affect Knox County.
Our citizens have strong opinions both for and against wearing masks. These arguments have pitted friends and neighbors against each other.
I continue to encourage the use of masks, but do not believe arresting and jailing those who do not wear masks is appropriate.
A Class B misdemeanor is the same level offense as driving a vehicle under the influence or possessing certain dangerous or addictive drugs. An arrest can have devastating consequences on life, health, employment and reputation. This is one of the reasons why our legislature has a very deliberate process to pass laws creating new crimes.
Our community faces issues related to drug abuse and violent crime. Our law enforcement officers deal with a climate of distrust and uneasiness. Arresting and jailing our citizens for failing to wear a mask would burden our courts, limit our ability to prosecute more serious crimes and create unnecessary conflict between our citizens and law enforcement. A citizen arrested and jailed for not wearing a mask could face consequences including losing work, being unable to care for themselves or family, custody issues, stress, anxiety, financial hardship, and a nearly endless list of potentially devastating outcomes.
While I will continue to encourage the use of masks in public spaces and by those who are most at risk, I will not support the arrest of our citizens for not wearing a mask.
I agree with the Attorney General that our Governor, despite the best intentions, lacks the authority to mandate wearing of masks without involving the legislative representatives of our citizens. I also do not support criminalizing this behavior in a way that will harm our ability to investigate and prosecute existing crimes while potentially devastating an otherwise innocent citizen. My office will not prosecute any of our citizens for not wearing a mask as mandated by the Governor."
In Knox County, prosecutor Dirk Carnahan released a statement Thursday afternoon. In the statement, the prosecutor says his office will not prosecute any residents for not wearing a mask.
News 10 spoke with Knox county sheriff Doug Vantlin. He says the sheriff's office will also not be enforcing the mandate. However, he says he still strongly supports wearing a mask in public.
Vantlin says, "Governor Holcomb, the governor has all good intentions for the people in the state. That's why he did it. He's trying to protect us by doing this. But there's just some questions that arise with this. That we're not going to enforce it."