Coffee County District Attorney General Craig Northcott said this week he will not prosecute anyone engaging in otherwise lawful activity just because it violates Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s executive orders on COVID-19.
Northcott announced this on his personal Facebook page this week.
Members of Lee’s staff did not return The Tennessee Star’s request for comment Friday.
Northcott told The Star Friday that no one in Lee’s office had contacted him.
“I have had private conversations with others regarding this but will not violate those confidences. As to continuing to abide by my decision, pursuant to the Tennessee Constitution as well as multiple Tennessee and U.S. Supreme Court holdings, the decision as to whether to pursue criminal charges rests solely with the elected District Attorney,” Northcott said by email.
“Thus, I don’t know of any situation which would require me to decide whether to take that stance in this particular circumstance,” he added. “That said, if that would somehow materialize, I will evaluate the situation at that time.”
Samantha Fisher, spokeswoman for Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, said Friday that her office had no comment.
Northcott said on his Facebook post that he has “grave concerns about the constitutionality of the statutory construct under which Gov. Lee exercised this authority.”
“As Gov. Lee continues to modify these orders, they are becoming increasingly vague and arbitrary. How does it make sense that a restaurant with a capacity of 400 can serve 200 people but a barber who rarely has more than 5 people in his shop at a time can’t ply his trade to support his family? How does it make sense that a tattoo artist in Knox County can operate legally but one in Coffee County can’t?,” Northcott asked.
“How does it make sense that people can go to a gym to workout but a high school football team can’t workout together in its own facilities? How does it make sense that a group of people can gather together to eat at a restaurant but the same group can’t gather in a home or public park to do so? How does it make sense that urban areas where there is the biggest concentration of COVID-19 can have less restrictions than rural areas where there has been minimal impact?”
Northcott said he did not believe that Coffee County residents would stand for him prosecuting people under these circumstances.
“Equally concerning, I believe that there is a growing public safety threat from those who are acting or will act out of frustration brought on by the financial, emotional and other pressures caused by these restrictions,” Northcott wrote.
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