Snohomish County sheriff who blasted stay-at-home order faces recall fight

May 4, 2020, 5:26 AM
Snohomish County Sheriff Fortney...
Sheriff Fortney (KIRO Radio, Hanna Scott)
(KIRO Radio, Hanna Scott)

Put simply, “your words were akin to yelling ‘Fire’ in a crowded theatre.” That’s how Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell closed out a letter to Sheriff Adam Fortney, refusing to defend him against a recall effort over his public criticism and refusal to enforce the Gov. Inslee’s stay-at-home order.

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Fortney made the comments in an April 21 Facebook post following a statewide address from Inslee outlining a path forward to reopening the economy, that critics complained lacked specific details on benchmarks.

Among other things, Fortney repeatedly questioned the constitutionality of the governor’s order, and reiterated his position that he would not enforce it.

The comments drew criticism from several public officials, including some county officials, State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and the governor himself.

It also prompted the filing of a recall petition by Snohomish County resident Lori Shavlick, accusing him of malfeasance, and a violation of his oath of office for refusing to enforce the emergency order, encouraging violations, and unilaterally declaring it unconstitutional.

Last week, as first reported by the Everett Herald, Fortney requested the county defend him against the recall effort, should it move forward, at the taxpayer’s expense.

One day after that request, Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell responded in a letter saying that after “considerable thought,” he had determined Fortney’s comments on a public Facebook page did not warrant a taxpayer funded defense.

Cornell said he believed Fortney’s statements could reasonably be read as a call to defy public health officials, and a declaration that the stay home order was unconstitutional. Cornell added that he felt Fortney’s comments put the public at risk.

“By directly or indirectly encouraging people to disobey data-driven, science-based lawful orders handed down expressly to limit the spread of COVID-19 and to protect our health and well-being during this pandemic emergency, your statement is fairly construed to support behavior that puts all citizens at greater risk of harm and death,” Cornell wrote. “Put simply, your words were akin to yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”

Fortney did not respond to a request for comment. However, in a press conference following a public lashing by the governor, Fortney explained he had hoped to open a dialogue with Inslee about concerns regarding the order and its impact on businesses, residents and the overall economy – though admitting he had not first tried to reach out to Inslee directly before going public with his critique.

Fortney has also stated if elected sheriffs believe something is pushing constitutional boundaries, not only should they speak up, but they are obligated to.

How early COVID-19 detection sounded ‘tornado siren’ for WA response

Shavlick, who filed the recall petition, doesn’t see it that way. She was angry when she saw the Facebook post.

“I was angry about this person who stood up. He was the person and raised his hand and said ‘I will uphold the laws of our community and protect our citizens.’ And then he turns around, gets into office and says, ‘I don’t like this law, I’m not going to choose to follow this.’ And we depend on him for our safety,” Shavlick said in an interview with KIRO Radio.

“When people are given the message that you don’t have to follow the laws you don’t like, that creates a big fear among people that feel that they’ve been betrayed. What’s going to happen if somebody decides to not follow the law and harms other people?” she added.

Others agree in a Change.org petition calling for Sheriff Fortney to be recalled, saying his job is to enforce the law, not decide what it is, and accusing him of going “rogue.”

But, Fortney also has supporters who, after hearing the county won’t cover the recall defense, started a Go Fund Me effort to raise money for his defense, praising Fortney for “rightly questioned the logic and legality of many aspects of Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order, and he refused to go after his own citizens by enforcing [it].”

Shavlick believes she has the signatures for the recall but because of the pandemic gathering them the traditional way is a challenge, so she’s waiting to hear if the courts will allow a special online signature gathering. She is keeping supporters updated here.

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Snohomish County sheriff who blasted stay-at-home order faces recall fight