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WA Supreme Court nixes recall of Thurston sheriff who wouldn’t enforce mask mandate

(Thurston County Sheriff's Office)

The Supreme Court of Washington State issued a ruling Thursday, reversing a lower court order that had allowed a recall petition filed against Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza to move forward.

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In June, Sheriff Snaza issued a statement saying that his department wouldn’t be criminally enforcing a statewide mask mandate, instead vowing to engage and “educate” people in violation of the order.

A recall campaign then began to take shape, before a superior court judge allowed petitioners to move forward with that effort in July, saying at the time that “an absolute, unilateral refusal to honor the legislators and the secretary of the Department of Health is a classic violation of the oath to follow the law.”

The case was then appealed before Washington state’s Supreme Court, which decided Thursday to overturn the lower court’s ruling.

“[Sheriff] Snaza appeals the trial court’s conclusion that the recall charge is factually and legally sufficient,” the Supreme Court’s ruling reads. “We conclude that Snaza has discretion and his exercise of discretion — stating he would not criminally enforce the order — was not manifestly unreasonable. Therefore, the recall charge is neither factually nor legally sufficient, and we reverse the trial court.”

Snaza had previously justified his decision not to criminally enforce the state’s mask mandate by pointing to “the minor nature of the offense, and the possibility for a negative outcome during an enforcement encounter.”

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The court’s reasoning for throwing out the recall petition was more broad than that, pointing out that the state’s official mask mandate doesn’t expressly lay out enforcement requirements. Given that fact, “when the law does not impose a mandatory duty to criminally enforce the law, the officer has the discretion to decide how to enforce the law,” wrote Justice Raquel Montoya-Lewis.

Thursday’s ruling was unanimous, effectively ending the recall campaign against Sheriff Snaza. A separate campaign to recall Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney, who had vowed last year not to enforce stay-at-home requirements, was allowed to move forward by the state Supreme Court in January by a 6-3 margin.

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