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NY sheriff says he won't enforce Governor Cuomo's holiday restrictions

Yahoo Finance reporter Sibile Marcellus speaks with New York Fulton Country Sheriff Richard C. Giardino on new COVID-19 restrictions the state has been given from NY Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Video Transcript

SIBILE MARCELLUS: As Thanksgiving approaches, coronavirus cases are rising across the country. Planning for Thanksgiving, a traditional time for giving thanks, basically, by inviting friends and family into your home, has turned into an anxiety-driven time, where many people are trying to decide whether or not to let friends and family into their home for safety reasons.

Now in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has put new restrictions on businesses, including a 10:00 PM curfew on bars and restaurants. Restaurants already had a 25% limit on indoor dining. But it's the renewed restrictions on Thanksgiving gatherings, the 10-person limit, that has really hit a nerve with law enforcement. Joining me now is Sheriff Richard Giardino, a New York sheriff to talk some more about this.

Now, sheriff, public health officials, they believe that Governor Cuomo is doing the responsible thing here with these restrictions and limitations on Thanksgiving gatherings because of the surge in coronavirus infections. Why don't you agree?

RICHARD GIARDINO: No, I believe his intent is appropriate. He's trying to do the most he can do to try and stop the spread of CV. But let's talk about CV first. The vast majority of cases, over 97% of the people who contract COVID-19, it's mild and moderate symptoms that go away within two to three weeks, and then they bounce out of it. These restrictions on what you and who you can have in your home and a number, I believe are unconstitutional.

And in order to understand why that's unconstitutional, under the 4th, 5th, and 14th Amendment, we have to first look at what is constitutional. For over 100 years, the United States Supreme Court and the law of the land recognizes when you have a public health threat, the government can set certain restrictions on your limited-- your liberties. And the Bill of Rights and the Constitution say-- provide your rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to be safe in your own home, and governmental interest-- and limits governmental overreach. I believe it's an overreach.

The reason, as I started to say, is, you look at the original intent. Like if were to say masks in public, limit the number of people in restaurants, limit the time you're open, those all are related to limiting contact, wearing a mask. Most doctors, most medical people agree with washing and all that.

So the government can do that in businesses. You can do it in bars, restaurants, because it's an administrative oversight of the health department, the state liquor authority. So with you getting a license for a bar or a restaurant and a gym, you also have to abide by the rules. Or they can suspend your license, fine you, or revoke your license to operate.

You living in your own home, I would argue, is a higher level to breach that sanctity. And so my belief is while he can quarantine you-- if you're in your home and you're sick, that he can use his authority to quarantine you.

And if you refuse to be quarantined, the governor has the authority go to a court. The local authorities go to a court and get a court order to place you in a hospital or quarantine you. I believe that this is arbitrary picking number 10. And I don't think in law enforcement, we would be able to enforce it under the Fourth Amendment.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: Do you believe Governor Cuomo has overstepped his boundaries here by trying to get you to police people inside their homes? And have there been any repercussions? Have you heard from Governor Cuomo about your refusal to abide by his executive order?

RICHARD GIARDINO: I haven't heard from him, but his spokesman has said that sheriffs and police are playing politics by not-- by refusing to enforce this. First of all, in the last six months, what have we seen across the country? In addition to the rise of COVID virus, we've seen law enforcement under attack for half a dozen acts of police officers that are in misconduct. We've had riots. We've had protests. And they're trying to heal that and bring the country together and do police reform.

So at the same time we're doing police reform, we're going to send police officers to knock on your door at Thanksgiving and say, how many people are here? I want to look-- I'm going to limit your-- you know, I want to count how many people you have here, and we're going to go in and check in a laundry room to see if Grandma is hiding out there. So I think that does more damage in an already fractured relationship between the police and the community.

One, I don't have resources. Two, I don't think it's constitutional for me to just stop at your home. The only way I can get in your house is if there's an emergency, immediate emergency-- somebody bleeding to death or a family fight. I can break in the door. Consent of you saying come on in or a search warrant. And there's no provision an executive order can do to grant me the right to go into your house without your consent or without a warrant.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: And what about Christmas? Do you think for the rest of the holiday season, that 10-person cap on people having at your home is going to still be in effect? And what would you do about that?

RICHARD GIARDINO: I think it's still going to be in effect. But I would argue two things. People in my community are adults. They paid attention. We have a very low rate. Most of them are wearing their masks. Countywide, we have a very low rate-- knock on wood. But I think that there's a difference between people having 600 or let's say, 50 people in their backyard, raising a ruckus.

But in your home, if you choose to have 15, 20, or 25 of your family and friends, and you have elderly family members, sick, or people who are high risk, either choose then to not have a big event on your own. But I don't think that it's appropriate to be told you can't have such events.

I also think that we don't-- I have three deputies for 500 square miles on a shift and 55,000 people. I can't be entering everyone's home or counting cars. Also, Sibile, what's interesting is, a few sheriffs started early on last week about this. And now, local police chiefs, town police chiefs, and more sheriffs are standing up and saying we don't have the resources, and we don't have the legal authority to be enforcing an executive order of this nature.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: And how have you enforced the business restrictions, for example, the 10:00 PM curfew on restaurants? Have businesses given you a hard time? Have you given tickets, arrests? What does it look like?

RICHARD GIARDINO: Most businesses have been pretty good. There's some that I get multiple complaints. We call them. We explain that the health department can shut them down or fine them. We talked to the owners or the managers. I've had several businesses-- we don't have a lot of people. So if I get a complaint, I personally make a phone call and say, can you post a sign that you've got to be six feet away? Can you post a sign not coming in without a mask? And that's been pretty successful.

The one area that I've posed against the governor is he said in a press conference-- early on, he said if you see somebody without a mask, please approach him and ask him to wear one. We've had two incidents in New York. One was an 18-year-old kid who was kicked in the face at a convenience store by a parolee when he approached him and asked him to wear a mask. So I publicly stated, it's not a good idea to approach people and ask them to wear a mask.

I think people can make their own decision as to a risk-reward situation. And I do think that people should take precautions. And I do think it's a serious disease. I just oppose the fact that it's the governor overreaching with an executive order to try to get into somebody's home and to make the law enforcement, you know, have to do the dirty work, so to speak.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: And looking at a situation nationwide, what are your thoughts on the new restrictions being reimposed on businesses? And do you think it's a waste of time for law enforcement to have to deal with these new restrictions, given that there are already the social distancing and mask guidelines?

RICHARD GIARDINO: I think that the reimposing of some of the restrictions is necessary in the general public areas and businesses and schools. A lot of counties and now in a lot of states, they're starting to shut down the schools permanently, instead of mixed virtual. So I think we're going to see the spread continue. I said it was going to get worse. But I think we still have to remember that the vast majority of people recover. You know, 97% or more mild situation, they recover.

I think the businesses and the damage done to social isolation and to some of these restrictions is not repairable. We have a doubling of mental health calls in our county. And in many states, mental health calls are skyrocketing. We also have a surge of domestic violence. And a lot of this is due to loss of jobs, furlough, fear that they're going to lose their mortgage, even though there's a halt on mortgages and rent.

But what about the landlords? Every time you say that OK, there's 10 people living in the apartment house don't have to pay rent, you got a landlord who's gotta pay his mortgage and his bills or her bills. And it's affecting them. I think that the mental and the anxiety and the mental health issues that are raised by doing this are exacerbating to other people, are going to be much longer term damage and much deeper than getting a mild flu and getting out of it for most people.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: Well, it's definitely important to weigh all the risks as we deal with these new restrictions. Sheriff Richard Giardino, it was great to have you on. Thanks so much.

RICHARD GIARDINO: Thank you very much for having me. You have a nice Thanksgiving, all 10 of you. All right, bye bye.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: Happy Thanksgiving.

RICHARD GIARDINO: Happy Thanksgiving.