Coronavirus: Police will start with warnings under Ohio stay-at-home order

With a stay-at-home order in effect to prevent the spread of coronavirus, people repeatedly breaking the order after warnings could face misdemeanor charges resulting in a fine, jail time, or both.

The mandatory order allows for essential services to operate and for people to meet their immediate needs, but nonessential activities need to cease to keep more people from dying, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Sunday.

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Montgomery County Sheriff Rob Streck called the Ohio Department of Health’s stay-at-home order “vague” and didn’t provide for a specific penalty. The sheriff’s office is currently operating on guidance from the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association that pointed toward a state statute covering misconduct during an emergency. Streck is also consulting with the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office for an opinion, he said.

Two Harrison Twp. bars have already been cited using the statute after they failed to cease operations after an earlier health department issued the closing of bars and restaurants, Streck said.

“Oviously we don’t want to cite anybody,” Streck said. “Our first thing would be verbal warnings explained to people that they can’t be out if they’re not out for one of the exceptions of the order.”

Streck said the order allows plenty of leeway for people to travel to the grocery store, take care of relatives and get excercise.

“My deputies aren’t just going to be pulling people over because there are so many exceptions,” he said. “There’s no probable cause that they’re not doing what they’re allowed to do.

Dayton police Chief Richard Biehl said although people not adhering to the order could be charged under the Ohio code, that won’t likely be the first step police take, Biehl said.

“We will be seeking and looking for voluntary compliance,” he said.

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Biehl said officers will document incidents and inform violators of the order.

If people are found to repeatedly violate the order, or flagrantly ignore the order, they could face greater consequences, Biehl said.

“For egregious violations there are statutes in the state of Ohio that allow for us to enforce this order … which could result in a summons or an arrest,” he said.

According to the Ohio Revised Code, misconduct at an emergency is a misdemeanor of the fourth degree. A violation creating a risk of physical harm to persons or property may result in a first-degree misdemeanor charge.

A fourth-degree misdemeanor is punishable by 30 days in jail and a fine up to $250, or both. A first-degree misdemeanor could result in up to 180 days in jail, a fine up to $1,000, or both.

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Most people are already voluntarily complying with the health guidance, said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley. But the city has received calls about house parties, which are banned under the new state order, she said.

“I know it’s difficult. Some people want to have game nights with their friends. Do not do that,” Whaley said. “Flattening that curve will absolutely save Daytonians’ lives.”

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