MOSCOW — The people cited and arrested Wednesday at a Christ Church-hosted “flash psalm sing” appeared to be in violation of the city’s face mask/social distancing order and police “acted appropriately” and were “within their authority” to cite and arrest, City Attorney Mia Bautista said.
Latah County Commission candidate Gabriel Rench was one of five people cited for allegedly violating Moscow’s mask order, Moscow Police Department Chief James Fry said Wednesday.
Rench said Christ Church will have another singing event at 5 p.m. today at Moscow City Hall to worship and petition the order. He said he will be there.
“I’ll do round two, man,” Rench said. “I’ll do round two for sure, you know. I hope it doesn’t go that way. I have a First Amendment right to do this and the cops are breaking their oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States that they swore they would.”
Of the five cited Wednesday, two also were arrested for suspicion of resisting or obstructing an officer. Rench was arrested but not charged with allegedly refusing to identify himself to police, Fry said.
It is estimated more than 150 people attended the event in which hymns were sung at Moscow City Hall.
City workers painted colorful rings 6 feet apart on the parking lot pavement to aid attendees in social distancing.
Rench, a Moscow Republican running against incumbent Democrat Tom Lamar in November’s election, said he was at the front of the crowd closest to the police, which is why they approached him and not others who were perhaps violating the order. He told the police he was attending with his mother and a friend.
Rench said an officer was going to write a citation and asked repeatedly for Rench’s identification, but Rench considered the question illegitimate because of the “unconstitutional resolution.”
He was eventually arrested for refusing to provide his ID and was taken to Latah County Jail, where he said he stayed for about two hours before he was released.
Rench, who appeared on Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle” on Thursday night, said he told law enforcement at the jail that he has a medical condition that exempts him from wearing a mask. He declined to tell the Daily News what the condition was because of potential court proceedings related to his citation. Rench said he started to inquire with lawyers if and what steps to take against the citation.
According to a city news release, some household groups were staying together and distancing from others while several people appeared to be in violation of the order. The release said police officers approached those people allegedly in violation.
“Upon confirmation that the individuals were unwilling to comply with the Order by either social distancing from nonhousehold members or wearing a face covering, five attendees were cited for violating the Order,” the release said.
It said the five individuals that received citations will be prosecuted according to law.
Christ Church Pastor Doug Wilson said police were calm, professional and polite but they did not have any business issuing the citations because the attendees were expressing their First Amendment rights.
“There was no misbehavior in terms of the protocols for arresting someone but you really shouldn’t be arresting someone for singing a hymn without a mask,” Wilson said.
“I think the police need to be thinking long and hard about how wrong-headed the orders have to get before they don’t enforce them anymore,” Wilson added.
He said a committee formed Wednesday to gather signatures to get a referendum on a future ballot that would allow Moscow voters the chance to vote for or against the mask order.
Mayor Bill Lambert issued the seven-day order and it took effect July 2. The city council has since extended the order — most recently at Monday night’s council meeting — to Jan. 5.
The order states face coverings must be worn in indoor and outdoor public settings where 6-foot social distancing cannot be maintained with nonhousehold members. Those who violate the order are subject to a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum punishment of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Lambert has drawn heat this week after photos surfaced of him at a wedding earlier this month without wearing a mask nor social distancing.
Lambert, who officiated the wedding, said he did not violate the order because it was a private setting. Plus, it was outdoors on a 3-acre piece of land, he said.
“When you’re at a private function, you absorb and take the risk on yourself if you decide to attend that or not to attend it,” he said.
Lambert said he had a mask and hand sanitizer with him and used both at times at the wedding.
“I didn’t see a reason to be too panicky about it,” he said.
Lambert said residents need to stay calm and that masks protect others from the virus.
“All that we’re trying to do with this mask mandate is for folks to wear masks in the public,” he said. “That’s it. Pretty damn simple.”
The Latah County Sheriff’s Office received a number of inquiries from residents regarding the mask order and the events that unfolded Wednesday at City Hall, according to a news release from Sheriff Richie Skiles.
“Unlike the Sheriff, municipal law enforcement agencies like the Moscow Police Department are under the direction of City Hall and are duty-bound to enforce municipal ordinances unless and until those ordinances are declared invalid by a court of law,” the release said.
It said Moscow police do not have the luxury or option to disregard the dictates of City Hall.
The legal system has avenues to seek redress from perceived illegal or unconstitutional laws, including municipal ordinances, the release said.
“We recognize and respect that there are citizens on both sides of the City of Moscow social distancing and mask ordinance that have deeply held feelings, concerns and fears,” it said. “We encourage everyone to avail themselves of lawful avenues for recourse. However, those lawful avenues should not include obstruction, resisting or delaying dedicated peace officers such as Chief Fry and the Moscow Police Department in doing their duties. We must all remember that the Moscow Police Department did not enact the social distancing and mask ordinance — the Moscow City Council did, so grievances should be addressed to City Hall, the courts or the ballot box.”
The release said law enforcement need support and assistance, not resistance and interference, and it encourages residents to peacefully and lawfully express their beliefs as allowed under the Constitution.
“For those citizens who endorse the Moscow social distancing and mask ordinance, tell City Hall; for those who oppose it, not only tell City Hall, pursue your legal remedies as is your right – but to all, exercise your constitutional rights in a lawful and respectful manner and don’t blame the Moscow Police Department for fulfilling their legal duties,” the release said.
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