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Sonoma County Sheriff Agrees To Enforce Local Health Order, Then Changes Mind

SONOMA COUNTY (KPIX 5) -- After a confusing day in Sonoma County Friday, it appeared the county sheriff will not be enforcing the the more restrictive local health department's current shelter order over the state's more relaxed restrictions.

Earlier this week, Sonoma County Health Director Dr. Sundari Mase announced that she had decided against following the governor's guidelines to move into the next stage of reopening business, including hair salons and barber shops. Dr. Mase has ordered an additional two-week delay prior to expanding openings.

"It is very important to understand that Sonoma County's health orders are aligned with the health orders of the State of California, which allows individual counties to take more restrictive measures," explained Dr. Mase.

But Thursday, Sheriff Mike Essick stated he no longer believed those more restrictive measures were needed and said so on local radio station KRSO.

"We are going to default to the governor's guidance. So the state of California, Governor Newsom, has set out a very well set out plan, in my opinion," Essick said. "He has the best public health expert advising him and we are going to stick with that plan."

He posted on the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department Facebook page how he was instructing his deputies to follow the state instructions. The Sheriff's position didn't sit well with Dr. Mase.

Friday morning, a meeting involving congressmen and local leaders was held with the sheriff. Dr. Mase later discussed that meeting on a Zoom call,

"During this conversation, we were able to reach an agreement and received clarity about issues and concerns that the sheriff had regarding health orders," said Mase.

While Essick initially posted on the department Facebook page that he was not changing his position, late Friday afternoon the Sheriff posted an update on Facebook that declared a new era of cooperation with the health director.

But during an afternoon Zoom call on Friday, when asked directly about who was in charge, Essick didn't provide a straight answer.

"I think we gotta more along, Don. We gotta take some other questions. Sorry," Essick said.

As it turned out, Essick was not done changing his mind. He posted another update on the department Facebook page at 6 p.m. reversing course again and confirming he would not be enforcing the rules laid out by Sonoma County health officials starting June 1.

Other elected officials in the county criticized the sheriff's decision, including Petaluma Mayor Teresa Barrett, who called Essick's decision "reckless and clearly not well thought out."

Barrett said, "That our county sheriff would issue his statement throwing up his hands and refusing to do the job he was elected to do has deep consequences. Whether unwittingly or knowingly stoking divisiveness he is contributing to divisions that are harming our community and nation." She added, "He needs to go."

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