Sheriffs ask AG Barr to review New Mexico health orders
RIO RANCHO, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Republicans and sheriffs are asking U.S. Attorney General William Barr to look into Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s health orders aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19.
State Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce and New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association President Tony Mace each sent letters to Barr last week seeking a review into the health orders that have shuttered some businesses since late March. They say the orders, which have closed several small businesses, violate residents’ civil rights.
“We want to express our fears and frustrations regarding New Mexico Gov. Lujan Grisham’s public health order, a policy many in our state believe to be a blatant violation of peoples’ civil rights, liberties and their right to conduct free commerce,” Pearce wrote. “The situation in New Mexico is one that is unjust and inequitable.”
Mace, the Cibola County sheriff and a frequent critic of fellow Democrat Lujan Grisham, said the health order was unfairly hurting residents.
“The governor has been discriminatory in her policies, keeping big box corporate giants open — draining New Mexico dollars out of state — while shutting down mom and pop locally owned establishments,” Mase wrote. “This is not only preferential treatment for the big box stores but a violation of the civil rights of our small business owners whose livelihoods are now in free fall.”
New Mexico GOP House Minority Leader James Townsend also sent a similar letter.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Pearce said he wanted Barr to look at New Mexico to see if the U.S. Constitution “is being respected” during the health order.
A spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham declined to comment.
Under a health order issued late March, state officials told all nonessential businesses to close their doors. First-time lockdown offenders can be given warnings, second citations for the same offenders are petty misdemeanors with a fine of up to $100, and third-time violators can be fined up to $5,000.
The health order has been extended to May 15. Lujan Grisham said the order will be lifted in phases.
Gallup, a popular supply stop for rural residents of the nearby Navajo Nation, has been on lockdown for nearly a week. Residents were ordered to stay at home except for emergencies.
State health officials reported more than 4,770 positive tests of the virus in the state as of Saturday. Nearly 200 people were hospitalized and at least 191 have died,. including 10 reported Saturday.
McKinley County in western New Mexico is the county leading the state with the highest number of cases despite its small population. It includes parts of the Navajo Nation, which has some of the highest infection rates in the country.
Of the additional 10 additional deaths, four of the people were from McKinley County, five were older people who lived in care facilities in neighboring San Juan County and one was from Bernalillo County.
Those three counties are the only ones in New Mexico that had at least 1,000 cases of COVID-19, according to state figures released Saturday.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Associated Press writer Paul Davenport contributed from Phoenix.
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