Fremont County Attorney says he won't enforce some public health orders

RIVERTON — The top prosecutor of Fremont County will not enforce certain elements of public health orders put in place by Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon to mitigate coronavirus spread.

In a statement issued Saturday, Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun wrote that his office "will not disregard its founding documents to deem criminal the innocent, and even necessary, actions of informed and consenting people who choose to work, to gather in worship or as a community, or to patronize ethical businesses."

County attorneys are elected prosecutors and governmental advocates who exercise discretion – tempered by statute – on how to charge crimes, and against whom crimes are charged.

Those elected to the post, LeBrun wrote, "enter into these duties by first swearing to defend the United States and Wyoming Constitutions, which list basic human rights intended to stand as a final bastion – even amid the erosion of long-held principles – against oppression."

The statement comes in the wake of multiple executive orders dispatched by Gordon in March and April.

The orders designated as criminal misdemeanors such acts as sit-down public dining, gathering in large groups, operating open bars or gymnasiums, and receiving in daycares children of "non-essential" workers.

Violation of these, and other provisions mandated to combat the virus, were punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The orders have since been relaxed slightly to proceed into a "phase one" of reopening the state's economy, which will take effect on May 15. However, violation of the reopening requirements is still punishable by law under Wyoming's public health statutes.

Restaurants, bars, gymnasiums, and close-contact businesses are allowed to reopen under strict guidelines and rigorous monitoring of staff and customers.

Social distancing will be required at large gatherings throughout all phases of reopening and into the foreseeable future, which state and county government have termed "the New Normal."

LeBrun wrote, however, that his office will "adhere" to the rights listed in both Constitutions, and "to the inherent right of every person to gather, own possessions, seek a livelihood, and make conscious, well-informed decisions about his or her life and well-being without harming others."

He addressed the seriousness of coronavirus and emphasized each individual's personal responsibility to care for one's fellow man.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a more acute understanding of our own mortality than most of us had before, and with that, an awareness of the frailties of others," he wrote. "The healthful among the population should use every commonsense measure to protect the elderly and vulnerable."

Any prosecutorial action taken, "or not taken," by his office, LeBrun's statement reads, "will occur with these principles in mind."

During a Friday meeting with restaurant and bar owners to discuss reopening criteria for businesses, Riverton Mayor Rich Gard acknowledged a statutory provision enabling not just the County Attorney, but the Wyoming Attorney General to prosecute public health law offenders as well.

"I can't speak for the (policy of the) AG of Wyoming... but she's going to have a hard time using the police department," said Gard.

From the genesis of the COVID-19 illness in early March, the Wyoming Department of Health has reported 180 laboratory-confirmed positive cases in Fremont County, as of Monday.