Sheridan business owner speaks out on COVID-19 orders

SHERIDAN — Businesses reopening has caused some tension and confusion along Sheridan’s Main Street, especially regarding law enforcement’s role in enforcing public health mandates.

Smith Alley Brewing Company owner Tiffany McCormick shared a video on Facebook Wednesday evening, claiming Sheridan Police Department Chief Rich Adriaens and a uniformed officer visited the restaurant threatening future citations if the business continued failing to comply with all mandates.

McCormick said of the 21 requirements for businesses, she followed all but one — employees were not wearing face masks. Citing personal health protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act and HIPAA, McCormick said she cannot ask an employee why they refuse to wear a face mask.

SPD Lt. Tom Ringley said SPD received a complaint about Smith Alley from the public health incident management team around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. No other businesses were visited that day as they received no other complaints from public health. SPD is enforcing public health orders like any other law right now, he said.

Ringley said SPD’s process is to educate and warn first and then issue a citation to obtain compliance if necessary. He noted Smith Alley employees were wearing face masks Wednesday evening when officers performed bar walk-throughs.

As several cities and states implement their own executive orders in addition to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations on wearing face masks where a 6-foot distance is difficult to maintain, National Law Review recommends: “Employers should consider the extent to which face coverings or masks are required under state laws or needed to limit transmission of COVID-19 exposures.”

Under normal circumstances, an ADA-covered business may not take an employee’s body temperature unless it’s explicitly job-related and necessary to business functions, according to National Law Review. Collected temperatures during COVID-19 under public health guidance are not subject to HIPAA privacy rules.

Employers can ask if an employee has traveled to CDC-defined high risk areas of the pandemic; however, employees retain a right to medical privacy and are not required to disclose medical information, according to NLR.

Employers are obligated to provide alternative equipment for employees with medical conditions, disabilities or religious beliefs that conflict with wearing the traditional cloth mask.

McCormick claimed Smith Alley was disproportionately targeted by law enforcement because of attention she brought with publicly shared videos exhibiting her position on reopening businesses.

Ringley denied targeting any one business and said all visits to Smith Alley have been in an attempt to educate. SPD does not have control over restaurant or business licenses, he said.

“All of our visits to all businesses have been complaint-driven, with the exception of one bar last week where it was obvious that the variances weren’t being followed and that business owner was absolutely compliant and thanked us for pointing it out to them,” Ringley said.

In response to McCormick’s frustration that officers who visited Smith Alley with a warning were not wearing face masks, Ringley said officers wear face masks when appropriate, but a significant amount of communication that occurs with the public is nonverbal — including facial expressions.

“In this instance we weren’t wearing masks because we wanted to be able to communicate using all of our tools,” Ringley said.

Sheridan County Prosecuting Attorney Dianna Bennett said law enforcement is expected to enforce public health orders like any other legal order, per state statutes. Failure to comply with either of the two applicable orders is a misdemeanor.

“If an officer witnesses a violation, he can make an arrest, otherwise the charge would be initiated by a citation,” Bennett explained. “A person could be arrested if the circuit court issues a warrant upon request of a prosecutor if he/she charged the alleged offense.”

Bennett said ADA-related issues would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, though she said “it would be an unusual defense to a criminal charge and may be more questionable for alleged violations of the order by multiple people in the same establishment.”

Recourse for businesses who claim to have been unfairly targeted by law enforcement would be dealt with as a civil issue, not involving the county attorney’s office, Bennett said.