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Snohomish County sheriff won't enforce stay-at-home order

Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney said he believed keeping businesses from operating "intrudes on our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The sheriff of Washington state’s third largest county says he won’t enforce Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, saying it violates people’s constitutional rights. 

Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney announced his position on Facebook Tuesday night, following a statewide address by Inslee in which the governor said the state will not be able to lift many of the stay-at-home restrictions implemented to fight the coronavirus by May 4. That’s the date through which the current directive is currently in place, but Inslee hopes health modeling in the coming days will allow resumption of some activities.

"As your Snohomish County Sheriff, yes I believe that preventing business owners to operate their businesses and provide for their families intrudes on our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," Fortney wrote. "I am greatly concerned for our small business owners and single-income families who have lost their primary source of income needed for survival."

RELATED: Thousands gathered in Olympia to protest Gov. Inslee’s stay-at-home order

Fortney argued that if coronavirus isn't as lethal as originally thought, it may be time to reopen the state.

"The impacts of COVID 19 no longer warrant the suspension of our constitutional rights," Fortney said.

Fortney urged residents to contact their local lawmakers and demand businesses to be allowed to reopen and employees to return to work if they choose.

However, Fortney got push-back from his fellow Snohomish County officials, including the county Executive Dave Somers and Prosecuting Attorney Adam Cornell. 

"The best I can do is talk to him and try to convince him it's the very wrong course of action," Somers told KING 5. "I disagree with his analysis totally."

Cornell's office the big risk is that residents think that they can violate the state's stay-home orders in Snohomish County, and that is not true.

"Like Sheriff Fortney, and other law enforcement and elected officials, I swore an oath to uphold the laws of the State of Washington, not just the laws I agree with," Cornell wrote.

RELATED: UW model pushes back timeline to relax social distancing in Washington

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson took to Twitter on Wednesday to warn Fortney the decision to enforce the order wasn't up to him.

“Sheriff Fortney does not get to decide what is constitutional," Ferguson said in a tweet. "That is up to the courts. I plan to follow up directly with Sheriff Fortney.”

Inslee addressed the matter in a Wednesday press conference, saying that ending stay-at-home orders now would be "gambling" with people's lives and that the stay-at-home order is state law.

"I do think that encouraging illegal activity jeopardizes the health of people in our communities," he said. "It also puts them in potential legal jeopardy."

The sheriff isn't the first to defy Inslee's stay-at-home order. In Eastern Washington, Franklin County commissioners approved a resolution to reopen businesses, which Inslee's office directed them to retract.