Upshur County Sheriff Larry Webb said Friday his office will not enforce Gov. Greg Abbott’s order issued the previous day requiring residents to wear a face covering in public places.

Webb said in a written statement that the order prohibits law enforcement from using detention, arrest or confinement to enforce it.

“This language strips police of the fundamental tools necessary to enforce compliance with the law,” he said.

According to Abbott’s order, after a written or verbal warning for a first-time violator, a person could have to pay a fine not to exceed $250 for their second violation. Further violations would be punished by a fine not to exceed $250 each time.

Webb said the language in the order makes it a liability for his officers to even speak to residents about the issue, as that could be construed as detention.

Webb will also not require his deputies to wear face masks while on duty. He said a face covering could be used to harm an officer and could make clear communication more difficult.

Earlier Friday, Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said his office would not be issuing fines for residents who do not wear masks in public. 

"While we encourage the public to take all precautions, we will encourage voluntary compliance regarding wearing a mask and will not be issuing citations for failure to comply," Smith said. "Should a business refuse to serve someone for failure to comply they do have the right to request you to leave."

He issued the statement after a lot of questions from the public about the Abbott's order.

"The Smith County Sheriff's Office encourages all citizens to practice safe social distancing during these times of the COVID-19 pandemic," Smith said. "Most of you have heard by now the governor’s order to wear a mask while in public."


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