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Sheriff pushes back on shelter orders

The Jackson County sheriff is asking residents not to submit complaints to his office about large gatherings or unlawfully reopened businesses because his office has “more significant issues to deal with on a daily basis.”

In an open letter posted Friday on the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page that thanked locals’ past efforts to keep the Rogue Valley safe at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sheriff Nate Sickler said that his law enforcement agency won’t dedicate any resources to enforcing the governor’s executive orders.

“We also understand the difficulties our current status is causing for our valley and many people have been put in very difficult situations,” Sickler’s statement reads in part. “My office will not make those situations worse.”

As of Saturday afternoon, the post had been shared close to 2,700 times.

To locals who are “vulnerable and concerned,” Sickler asked them to, “please protect yourself and act accordingly.”

Sickler said his office operates independently from other law enforcement agencies, and city police departments may continue to enforce the governor’s order within their jurisdictions.

Medford police Chief Scott Clauson said in an email Friday that his officers have “not yet had to enforce the governor’s order and do not plan to change,” but Medford police will still refer complaints for enforcement to state regulators in “egregious situations where public safety may be at risk.”

“MPD is not currently expending any resources on the order,” Clauson added.

Ashland police Chief Tighe O’Meara said his agency will “document” violations and pass them on to the appropriate state agency.

Other agencies that could potentially enforce governor orders independently from the sheriff’s office include Oregon State Police and the Oregon Attorney General’s Office.

Business owners or others who hold gatherings that prohibited under the governor’s executive order could also face civil penalties potentially in the thousands of dollars from the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Division, according to Oregon OSHA spokesperson Aaron Corvin.

“The short of it is, yes, Oregon OSHA will engage in enforcement activity,” Corvin said, adding that investigators will focus on workplace and worker safety.

Corvin said that under Oregon statutes, fines for “serious” OSHA violations can range from $100 to $12,675. Fines for “willful or repeat” violations range from $8,900 to $126,749.

OSHA doesn’t give advance notice of inspections, and that the state has added “spot checks.”

Corvin couldn’t provide numbers of pending investigations across the state, but said, “We do have several citations in the pipeline.”

“There’s no doubt we continue our enforcement activity under the executive order,” Corvin said “That doesn’t change for us.”

In particularly flagrant violations, Corvin said OSHA has “red tag” authority that effectively “shuts down” a business or part of a business that puts workers in danger.

“That is unusual, but it is part of the statute,” Corvin said.

For complaints in Jackson County, contact Oregon OSHA’s Medford field office enforcement line at 541-776-6030. For guidelines and regulations see osha.oregon.gov.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

Jackson County Sheriff's Office logo.