A Port of Seattle police officer has been placed on paid administrative leave after posting a video online last week telling fellow officers they shouldn’t enforce coronavirus-related orders.
Officer Greg Anderson is on leave pending an investigation, according to a Port of Seattle spokesman, who declined to comment further on the pending personnel matter.
In the video posted on May 7, Anderson, in uniform and sitting in a patrol vehicle, says citing or arresting people in relation to what he called “tyrannical” social-distancing orders violates people’s constitutional rights.
“I want to remind you that regardless of where you stand on the coronavirus, we don’t have the authority to do those things to people just because a mayor or a governor tells you otherwise,” he says. “We don’t get to violate people’s constitutional rights because somebody in our chain of command tells us otherwise.”
Anderson said he was disturbed at the implication people would be violating the law by “going to church, for traveling on the roadways, for going surfing, opening their businesses, going to the park with their families or doing nails out of their own house using their own house as a place of business.”
Port of Seattle Police Chief Rod Covey on Tuesday posted an explanation of the department’s response to Anderson’s video in a Facebook post.
“Greg has always had the ability to express his opinions on what is going on in the country like all other Americans,” Covey wrote. “However, he is not allowed to do so while on duty, wearing our uniform, wearing our badge and while driving our patrol car. Every police officer in the country understands that. I personally told this to Greg and told him that I would support his right to talk about these issues as long as he did so while not claiming any affiliation to our police department. Greg has chosen this course of action even after he and I spoke and while also knowing that his actions were outside of well-established policy.”
Reactions on social media ranged from people who have called him an “idiot” and say discipline is warranted to others who applauded his “heroism” in speaking out and have established donation pages to raise money so he can hire a lawyer. One such page had, by 3 p.m. Tuesday, raised $263,385.
Last month, Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney said in a post on his campaign Facebook page that he won’t enforce Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-home order because he believes it is unconstitutional.
“I believe that preventing business owners to operate their businesses and provide for their families intrudes on our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he wrote, paraphrasing the Declaration of Independence, which is a separate document from the U.S. Constitution. “As your elected Sheriff I will always put your constitutional rights above politics or popular opinion.”
Fortney argued the stay-home order, which aims to slow the spread of the coronavirus by barring people from gathering, violates Washingtonians’ First Amendment rights to religious exercise and peaceable assembly.
The lengthy public post stirred strong reactions among voters who supported or denounced it.
A Monroe resident filed a petition with the city auditor seeking to recall Fortney, a 23-year veteran sheriff’s patrol sergeant who took office in January after defeating incumbent Ty Trenary.
When Fortney asked the county to pay for his legal defense against the recall effort, Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell declined, saying Fortney’s public statements “do not warrant a defense at public expense.” Cornell said questioning the order’s scientific underpinnings during a pandemic was like “yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”