By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief
SACRAMENTO – The State Judicial Council mandated last week, under an emergency COVID-19 order, that counties in California empty out their jails – but Sacramento law enforcement threatened Wednesday to maybe toss people in jail for “reoccurring or blatant violations” of state and county health orders to “stay-at-home” during the coronavirus pandemic.
Sacramento City Police and the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Dept. are not saying if people will actually be taken to the county jails, but statements released Wednesday sounded a stern warning.
“(L)aw enforcement agencies throughout the Sacramento region will begin conducting enforcement on reoccurring or blatant violations of this Health Order,” according to a statement issued from the Sacramento District Attorney’s Office.
The District Attorney’s office didn’t deny it would prosecute people, but deferred to local law enforcement on whether people violated the public health order would be booked or cited and released on the spot.
A Superior Court order last month encouraged early release of prisoners at Sacramento county jails, and that officers avoid booking people at the jail for simple misdemeanors. Citing and releasing people to appear in court later was recommended.
However, the penalty for violating a state or local isolation order, according to the DA, is a misdemeanor with up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine from $50 to $1,000. A State of Emergency violation is also a misdemeanor, with up to six months in jail and/or a fine up to $1,000.
In short, those who insist on taking joy rides or disobeying the shelter-in-place/stay-at-home orders except for essential travel to get groceries, medications or work may not – because of the desire to keep county jail populations down – spend time in jail. But those fines could be costly.
“Law enforcement agencies in Sacramento County will now also take enforcement action on violations of the Public Health Order that clearly put the health and safety of our communities in jeopardy,” said the DA press release.
And, in a prepared statement, Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn was direct.
“We know that the vast majority of our community will continue to comply with the Public Health Order, and an educational approach will still be effective,” Hahn said, adding “This move towards limited enforcement addresses those that blatantly put the community at risk by engaging in obvious violations of the Public Health Order.”
The DA’s office noted that since March 20, when the health order went into effect,, “Sacramento area law enforcement agencies have primarily taken an education-based approach to gain voluntary compliance when addressing violations of the Public Health Order,” and that “education continues to be the primary focus of all agencies when it comes to violations of the Health Order.”
Policing agencies that may enforce the COVID-19 emergency orders include the cities of Sacramento, Elk Grove, Citrus Heights, Folsom, Galt, Rancho Cordova, and Sacramento County Parks Police, Fulton-El Camino Parks, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office.
It appears the main impetus of the new, tougher action are large house parties, and vehicle “sideshows,” where hundreds of people have gather together in streets. A CHP vehicle was reportedly damaged in one of these shows last week that involved as many as 300 people.
According to news reports, other locales have had to start enforcing the stay-home-orders.
At least a dozen businesses in Los Angeles face criminal charges for refusing to close, including a car wash, smoke shops and a massage parlor.
San Francisco used police officers to block, and then confiscate items at a nightclub under the power of the public health order.
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