In response to repeated gatherings of crowds outside an apartment complex and convenience store, Pulaski County officials said they are prepared to arrest people found violating the Illinois governor’s stay-at-home order.
A joint news release from Pulaski County Sheriff Randy Kern and State’s Attorney Jim Flummer outlined two priority enforcement targets related to the order. One of them is unlawful public gathering of adults, and particularly those who congregate for outdoor parties in Pulaski County. Violators may be arrested.
The second is minors who are out in public in violation of the limited exceptions to the stay-at-home order. This could lead to the filing of juvenile delinquency petitions against minors. Parents, guardians or custodians of children found to be violating the order may also face charges of endangering the life or health of a child, the news release said.
Flummer said recent issues with adults and children flouting the law in Pulaski County prompted officials to issue the news release. It is intended to serve as a reminder to everyone in the county that this is a serious matter, and that law enforcement is prepared to take action, he said.
Flummer said most people in Pulaski County are taking the stay-at-home order seriously, “but some are not.”
“And the ones who aren’t are presenting a real danger to the ones who are,” he said.
The joint news release from Kern and Flummer was issued Tuesday morning, at a time when there were no confirmed COVID-19 cases in Pulaski County. That had changed by the afternoon. Around 3:30 p.m., Southern Seven Health Department reported the county’s first case, a woman in her 60s who has been notified and is isolating. There have also been two cases in neighboring Massac County.
The governor’s order directs people to stay inside except to report for essential jobs or to run essential errands, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy. People are also permitted to go outside for exercise so long as they practice social distancing and avoid groups of 10 or more.
Flummer said law enforcement officers have issued a handful of warnings in the past several days “and they are getting ready, if the situation persists, to start making arrests.”
Teresa Kern, an administrative assistant with the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office, said the gatherings have taken place outside of a privately owned apartment complex for low-income families, and outside a gas station/convenience store, both located in Mound City, a community of fewer than 600 people that sits along the Ohio River at the state’s southern border. The gatherings have included upward of 25 people, she said.
Sheriff’s deputies have tried to educate people about why it matters that they avoid crowds, Teresa Kern said. But some people have continued to gather anyway.
“We’re just wanting to keep our citizens safe,” she said. “We don’t want to have a large outbreak of COVID. We’re a very rural county and because we’re so far from the testing sites, we don’t have a good way of getting people tested. If people get sick, it’s going to create a lot of hardship for them and other counties where they have to go for medical treatment.”
She added, “We’re just trying to protect people.”
State officials have stressed that the governor’s stay-at-home order, in effect since March 21, emphasizes compliance over punishment.
But some communities have been taking a heavier enforcement hand in recent days as confirmed cases, and deaths, continue to rise throughout the state, and some people continue to gather for social activities.
The Alton Telegraph reported Monday that police broke up a crowd at a tavern in that Metro East community about 1 a.m. Sunday, and plans to charge each person who was there — including the mayor’s wife — with reckless conduct.
ProPublica reported in a March 30 article that a man who had been ordered to self-isolate because of coronavirus symptoms was charged with reckless conduct in Jasper County. The man told ProPublica that he had walked into a convenience store in Sainte Marie, a town of about 250 people, so that his 4-year-old son could use the bathroom and was recognized by an employee who saw a social media post he had made about his symptoms.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported Tuesday that Chicago Police are prepared to issue dispersal orders, citations and, if necessary, arrest people who do not follow closure orders.
Heartland Alliance, a Midwest advocacy organization for people living in poverty and other vulnerable communities, has raised some concerns about enforcement of the stay-at-home order. Carlton Mayers, a senior policy manager for criminal justice reform with the nonprofit, told WTTW, Chicago’s PBS station, that the order is overall a good thing. But he pointed to a “lack of specificity on the language” on how law enforcement should enforce noncompliance.
Flummer said the bottom line is, “If we’ve got a child out, not doing one of those permitted exceptions (in the order), they are breaking the law and can be charged with a juvenile delinquency petition.”
Flummer said the charges that adults may face for congregating in groups of more than 10 would depend on the circumstances. It would initially be up to the arresting law enforcement agency, he said. Kern said the sheriff’s office would look to the state’s attorney’s office for guidance.
Flummer said he hopes it doesn’t come to that. He said the aim of county officials is to encourage people who are not taking this seriously to have a change of heart — not arrest them.
“We’ll prosecute them if we have to,” he said, “but I’d rather solve the problem. If we could get people to cut it out, that would be the very best of all worlds. I’m not looking to put people in our jail.”
COVID-19 numbers in Southern Illinois
On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI
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