ELKTON — Cecil County Sheriff's Office deputies will respond to complaints of gatherings of more than 10 people, which is forbidden statewide under an emergency order issued by Gov. Larry Hogan, but they will not proactively patrol to enforce the ordinance, according to Sheriff Scott Adams.
The county's top law enforcement officer explained how he and his deputies would handle such situations during a COVID-19 press conference inside the county's Emergency Operations Center on Monday afternoon - approximately two hours after Hogan, during a televised address, announced his emergency order to close all "non-essential businesses" in Maryland and, once again, urged Maryland residents to stay home in order to slow the spread of the virus.
“We are telling all Marylanders to follow all of the directives and to follow the state law against crowds of more than ten people,” Hogan said, adding, “And we are telling you, unless you have an essential reason to leave your house, stay in your home.”
During his address, Hogan expressed dismay over reports of people flocking to the Ocean City boardwalk, Maryland parks and Washington, D.C. and opined that some people still are not taking the social distancing directive and the pandemic seriously.
Referring to the governor's address seconds after stepping up to the podium, Adams acknowledged that Hogan reiterated his social distancing directives, particularly as they apply to gathering of more than 10 people, with a "little more force" on Monday morning.
Adams said deputies would respond to any reports of organized gatherings of more than 10 people and, upon arriving at the scene, they would follow plans created by CCSO officials, including himself, and Cecil County State's Attorney James Dellmyer.
"First, we'll respond and see if there actually is a violation. If there is a violation, then we're going to ask for voluntary compliance," Adams said, explaining that the people attending the gathering would be given an opportunity simply to disperse. "That's what we hope to have occur in this situation."
If the people ignore the order to break up the gathering, however, deputies then could move toward issuing criminal citations, which means charging papers would be issued to people but they would not taken into custody, according to Adams.
"Beyond voluntary compliance, we would identify the leader or organizer of the gathering, and they may be cited," Adams said from the podium.
During an interview with the Cecil Whig after the press conference, Adams qualified that that organizers or leaders would be cited only if they ignore orders to instruct the gathered people to leave.
If the gathered people do not go their separate ways at that point, deputies would move to a "last-case scenario," according to Adams.
"Then we would come to an arrest situation," Adams said, noting that the protocol contains "several levels" before that point in which violators - organizers, leaders and attendees alike - are given opportunities to comply. "Those situations (arrests), we're going to work dynamically with the state's attorney and come to the best outcome."
Dellmyer told CCSO officials that he would come to the scene of any gathering of more than 10 people to assist deputies, according to Adams.
After the press conference, Dellmyer told the Cecil Whig that the maximum penalty for violating the ordinance forbidding gatherings of more than 10 people is one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Adams reported that, as of Monday, CCSO had not received any calls concerning gatherings of 10 or more people.
The list of other leaders who spoke during Monday's press conference includes County Executive Alan McCarthy, County Health Officer Lauren Levy, Cecil County Public Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Lawson and Director of the Cecil County Department of Emergency Services Richard Brooks.