California county task force to fine residents for mask violations, but some criminal activities overlooked

November 20, 2020 

One county in California is getting serious about its mask mandate as COVID-19 cases climb, but local leaders have decided to let some other criminal infractions go.

Contra Costa County has created a task force to help ensure that local residents and businesses are adhering to social distancing and mask guidelines designed to curb the spread of the virus.

Fines are on the table for people and establishments found to be violating health orders, though generally warnings are issued first.

Scott Alonso, a spokesperson for the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office, told Fox News that those fines begin at $100 for individuals and increase per infraction to a maximum of $500.

For businesses, fines start at $250 and increase to a maximum of $1,000. He likened the policy to doling out traffic tickets and said it is an alternative to prosecution.

Alonso added, however, that the agencies involved are not necessarily going out and looking for violations, but instead investigate what is referred through a complaint process.

Alonso told Fox News that about 900 complaints have been called in since March - including around 100 in the last several weeks. Most complaints pertain to businesses not asking patrons or staffers to put on masks.

He is not aware of any instances where the DA's office - or any county entity - has issued a fine, but cities within the county have jurisdiction to do so, as well.

SHERIFFS NOT ENFORCING NEWSOM'S CORONAVIRUS CURFEW, WON'T 'MAKE CRIMINALS' OF LAW-ABIDING CITIZENS

While penalties are possible for those who do not follow health-related guidance, the county will not prosecute first-time offenders caught with small amount of drugs or other non-violent offenses, like petty theft.

In September, the DA's office announced that the policy - which began as a pilot - would become official and would no longer file charges in some instances where low-level misdemeanors are involved, including theft under $300, shoplifting, disorderly conduct and low net weight cases of controlled substances, among others.

The idea is to divert low-level recreational users out of the criminal justice system and potentially into the healthcare system.

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Meanwhile, California Gov. Gavin Newsom found himself under fire after attending a dinner hosted by a lobbyist at an expensive restaurant, where attendees were seen indoors, without masks - in violation of Newsom's own state orders.

The Democratic governor has since apologized for his actions, which came as the state experiences the most severe uptick in infections since the start of the pandemic earlier this year.

And Newsom is receiving pushback on some of his requirements - at least one local law enforcement official has said she would not penalize residents don't follow the state-mandated curfew.

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