District attorney general in Cleveland, Tennessee, won't prosecute COVID-19 executive order violations

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A Cleveland, Tennessee district attorney general says he's refusing to prosecute violations of executive orders related to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a news release from the 10th Judicial District Attorney's Office.

District Attorney General Stephen Crump says his office will not enforce any criminal sanctions or penalties against any citizen for violating one of Tennessee Governor Bill Lee's executive orders.

"While I have great respect for Governor Lee, I cannot in good conscience, and with fidelity to my oath, allow what I believe to be unconstitutional criminal proceedings to take place," Crump said in the release. "There cannot be two standards of criminal justice in this state. It is not constitutional, nor is it just."

Crump cited Executive Order 30, which was issued on Tuesday, that continues the closure of "close contact personal services" and "entertainment, recreational, and certain other gathering venues" while still forbidding "social or recreational gatherings of 10 or more people." Under other orders, multiple businesses have been allowed to reopen, including restaurants dining rooms and gyms and fitness centers.

"While I do not believe that Governor Lee intended to act in an arbitrary fashion, I do believe that the enforcement of the current orders would result in that very outcome. There is not a constitutionally sound cohesion between the acts allowed and the acts prohibited," Crump stated. "That cannot be the foundation upon which a meaningful prosecution is built, and the institution of such a prosecution would undermine public confidence, rather than cultivate it. I cannot allow that to occur."

Crump also mentioned that while many Knox County businesses are set to open Friday, those same businesses would still be closed in the 10th Judicial District by the order of the governor. He gave examples of two types of those businesses, saying "a barber in Knox County can open on Friday, but the barbers in the counties and towns of this district will still be prohibited from working" and "a restaurant can have half of their dining room filled, while a group of more than 10 friends cannot meet in a public park to eat together."

In ensuring "the powers of the government are limited and confined by the constitution," Crump said he doesn't believe "someone should be prosecuted in this district for trying to earn a living doing a job that is legal and 'permitted' just a few miles up the road."

He also said that many citizens "are about to simply go back to work to save their livelihoods, their homes and their economic existence" and that they should "not be penalized simply due to geography."

"An act that is legal in Knox County cannot be a criminal act in Bradley, Polk, McMinn or Monroe County," the release states.

While Crump mentioned that business owners who reopen in spite of the executive orders may face "licensing issues or other serious consequences," he doesn't believe they should face criminal charges and says every citizen should act responsibly in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

"We must all use extreme care to protect the vulnerable," Crump stated. "We must use common sense and do our best to act as one community."