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Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana says he will not enforce stay at home order

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WINNEBAGO COUNTY (WREX) — Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana says his office will not enforce the governor's stay at home order.

Last week, Gov. JB Pritzker announced a five phase plan to open the state in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Illinois region with Winnebago County in it is set to enter phase 3 by the end of the month. But with that, many businesses are still considered non-essential and will only be able to do curbside pickup. Additionally, bars and restaurants still wouldn't be able to allow customers to dine in.

Caruana says while this is his own decision, he is also following recommendations by the Illinois Sheriff's Association, who released a memo Thursday advising departments to not enforce the stay at home order and to not cite businesses that open in defiance of it.

"I'm not telling you to defy anything," says Caruana. "What I'm telling you is what we're doing as a law enforcement agency and we're not going to be the personal protective equipment police - the PPE police."

He went on to call the governor's actions "disappointing" and "shameful" after Pritzker said he'd consider withhold funding to communities that do not abide by the order.

"That's a scare tactic and bully tactic and I'm not going to put up with that. And shame on him for doing that."

Caruana is joined by Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle who is not enforcing the order and says the governor's office has repeatedly failed to discuss the matte with the sheriff's association.

"For them [businesses] to come up with responsible game plans and not be able to do that because the governor that's in Chicago doesn't understand what were doing out here is irresponsible for governments to put restrictions on them."

VanVickle adds the businesses or religious groups who've called him concerned they'll be arrested have all stressed they'll take protective measures and social distance. He's cautioning businesses that require a state license to understand while his office won't come after them, that doesn't mean the state won't.

"People that hold professional licenses need to be aware of potential ramifications from the state should they operate outside the executive order because those license are issued by the state."

Winnebago County Public Health Administrator Sandra Martell offered this statement following Caruana's announcement:

"Communities should not need to rely on law enforcement or the Winnebago County Sheriff to do the right thing to protect lives and livelihoods. I encourage our community to heed the Governor's Executive Order and Stay Home except for essential services. We would not want to jeopardize moving to the next Phase of Recovery."

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Audrey Moon

Audrey is the news director at 13 WREX. She’s a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and joined the team at 13 WREX in 2014.

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