EL PASO, Texas -- The El Paso County Constable's and Sheriff's Offices on Saturday declared that Judge Ricardo Samaniego's order shutting down non-essential businesses due to a massive coronavirus outbreak would be enforced by their agencies effective immediately in both the county and city.
"The El Paso County Constable’s Office would like to emphasize that the order is valid and enforceable," it said in a statement issued Saturday.
In a separate statement, a spokesperson for the sheriff said, "it is clear that the County Judge’s order is in fact legal and enforceable. As such, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office will be enforcing all the provisions in the new order."
Both announcements followed a memo from El Paso County Attorney JoAnne Bernal outlining her legal view that Texas state law grants the judge disaster declaration powers, which she said the governor cannot take away.
Samaniego said he imposed his order due to soaring Covid-19 infections, which rose significantly again Saturday morning as county health officials announced a new daily case record of 1,643 as well as an all-time high of El Pasoans hospitalized on ventilators. It was a fact not lost on the Sheriff's Office.
"Covid infections are out of control and continue to skyrocket with no end in sight. We are hopeful that the citizens of El Paso will understand the seriousness of this issue and voluntarily comply with the Judge’s order. Otherwise enforcement action will be taken," the sheriff's statement said.
The announcements by the Constable's and Sheriff's Offices came a day after the El Paso Police Department had refused to enforce the judge's order, citing an advice letter from the state attorney general questioning the legality of the order. It was unclear how the differing views might impact cooperation between the three law enforcement agencies.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton felt strongly enough in his view that he joined a group of ten El Paso businesses suing the judge over the order, claiming the judge's edict isn't valid because it didn't have the governor's support. Samaniego has said only a court has the authority to overturn his directive, which he doesn't believe will occur.
El Paso Mayor Dee Margo on Friday had encouraged local businesses to stay open and said he wouldn't direct the city police to enforce the judge's order, citing the AG's letter which he had requested. However, the county attorney's legal opinion said Margo is required to follow the judge's directive under state law which makes clear that the mayor is outranked by the judge.