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Montgomery County Sheriff's Office says it won't enforce Gov. Abbott's public mask order

Unable to detain, arrest or jail violators, the sheriff's office says the order "strips law enforcement of the necessary tools to enforce compliance with the law."

HOUSTON — The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office will not enforce the recent mandate requiring Texans to wear a mask in both indoor and outdoor public spaces, according to a statement issued Friday.

Gov. Greg Abbott has issued a mandatory mask order for counties with more than 20 coronavirus cases as the state struggles to control rising COVID-19 cases. The order went into effect June 3.

The governor said face coverings must be worn inside all buildings open to the public as well as outdoor public spaces, whenever social distancing isn’t possible.

It doesn’t include children younger than 10, people with certain medical conditions and people who are eating, drinking or exercising.

Those who don’t wear a mask could face a fine of up to $250 following a warning, but MCSO says the language of the order makes it difficult to enforce as it doesn't allow law enforcement agencies to detain, arrest or jail violators.

"The language in the Governor's order could subject our agency, and Montgomery County as a whole, to civil liability as stopping someone for a face covering related issue could be constructed or misconstructed as a detention. Additionally, holding someone for the purpose of issuing a citation related to a fine is a legally defined detention under current Texas Law," the release said.

RELATED: Map: Keeping track of Houston-area coronavirus cases

RELATED: Harris County restricts outdoor gathers of 10+ people through Aug. 26

While officers won’t be stopping people on the street, they will give businesses a hand.

The sheriff’s office said deputies will help with turning away customers who refuse to leave for not wearing a mask— but only at the request of business owners or authorized supervisors. In those situations, deputies will follow standard protocol.

“We are in a public health crisis and we will use this opportunity to educate our community while still respecting individual liberties,” the release stated. “Let’s work together to ensure Montgomery County remains a safe place to live and work. We encourage all citizens to take reasonable precautions in their own life to mitigate possible exposure by following all Health Department guidelines.”

Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough went to Facebook to express his disapproval of the statewide mandate

“I’m amazed and profoundly disappointed with the governor’s decision to remove the self-governance and personal responsibility from the people of the state of Texas,” Keough said.

“I can particularly identify, and certainly sympathize with those of you who had been already practicing the CDC guidelines that we’ve been hearing about for months and months.That being said, the governor posses broad authority that has been given to him by the Texas legislature for times of emergency. Now although he may act with this regal authority, which angers all patriots, he is still the governor. So until those broad powers are changed, here’s where we stand today.”

He stated that if residents are being required to wear a mask then business closures and other restrictions on businesses should be lifted.

More than 2,300 coronavirus cases and 36 COVID-related deaths have been reported in Montgomery County since July 6.

County judges can apply for an exemption.

The Texas Department of Emergency Management has published a list of counties that are exempted from the mask order. So far, no counties in the Houston region have been listed.

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