BEAUFORT — Carteret County Sheriff Asa Buck Thursday joined a growing number of North Carolina sheriffs who say they won’t enforce Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order mandating face coverings in public.

Gov. Cooper announced the new statewide mandate Wednesday as he extended phase two of North Carolina’s reopening plan by three weeks. Executive Order 147 goes into effect at 5 p.m. Friday.

Under the executive order, residents are required to wear masks or other face coverings in public when physical distancing is not possible. Employees of certain businesses, including retailers and restaurants, are also required to wear a mask under the new mandate.

Violating the governor’s orders can result in a misdemeanor, but Sheriff Buck and others have stated they won’t issue citations to individuals for not following the mandate, only businesses or other organizations who fail to enforce the order.

“Law enforcement personnel are not authorized to enforce the requirement against individual workers, customers or patrons,” Sheriff Buck said in a statement released by the Carteret County Sheriff’s Office Thursday evening. “However, if a business does not allow entry to a customer or patron because that person refuses to wear a face covering, and if that person enters the premises or refuses to leave the premises, law enforcement officers may enforce trespassing laws.”

Sheriff Buck went on to state because of the wording of the executive order and the numerous exceptions it contains, “my Office will not be enforcing the face covering requirements of Executive Order 147.”

A number of other sheriffs throughout the state have issued similar statements. According to news reports, sheriffs in Craven, Beaufort, Pitt, Washington, Sampson, Bladen, Columbus, Catawba, Gaston, Burke, Iredell, Halifax, Union, Stanly, Alamance and other counties have made statements clarifying their positions on enforcement.

Some sheriffs called the order “unenforceable,” while others have taken a stronger stance, calling the mandate “unconstitutional.”

“It is my sworn duty to enforce laws enacted by our legislature, as well as protect the constitutional rights of all citizens,” Sampson County Sheriff Jimmy Thornton said in a Facebook post. “It is my belief that Governor Cooper’s executive order mandating face coverings by all citizens in public is not only unconstitutional, but unenforceable. My deputies will NOT enforce an executive order that I feel violates the constitutional liberties of citizens.”

Other sheriffs have asked for voluntary compliance with the executive orders. Some counties, including Orange and Wake, issued their own face coverings mandates before the governor’s announcement Wednesday. 

Gov. Cooper’s latest executive order comes amid a recent surge of COVID-19 cases in the state. Daily case numbers have been on the rise for several weeks, and hospitalizations are breaking records almost daily.

“North Carolina is relying on the data and the science to lift restrictions responsibly, and right now our increasing numbers show we need to hit the pause button while we work to stabilize our trends,” Gov. Cooper said when he introduced the orders.

Carteret County has seen a rise in cases lately, as well. As of Friday morning, there are 71 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 18 of which are considered active. Multiple confirmed cases have been reported almost every day for the past week, and cases have nearly doubled in about a month.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Contact Elise Clouser at elise@thenewstimes.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.

(19) comments


Whether you agree with wearing a mask or not what is interesting is with the comment by Sampson County sheriff. It is confusing as he lays out his requirements as a sheriff to obey all legislative laws but then he decides which ones he will follow. Uhh... does not work that way he cannot decide it is an order I am assuming. This one will probably go to court is my guess or the State will back down.

“It is my sworn duty to enforce laws enacted by our legislature, as well as protect the constitutional rights of all citizens,” Sampson County Sheriff Jimmy Thornton said in Facebook post. “It is my belief that Governor Cooper’s executive order mandating face coverings by all citizens in public is not only unconstitutional, but unenforceable. My deputies will NOT enforce an executive order that I feel violates the constitutional liberties of citizens.”


I would have preferred if he just straight up told Cooper to go pound sand. We don't care about you ridiculous decrees. The worst that Cooper is likely to do is go whine about it on the "news."


Asa Buck won't enforce the wearing of face masks because it's not a law and he's a lawman. But he will arrest you for trespass if you go to the grocery store without a mask and they call the sheriff. Can't buy groceries or Sheriff will arrest you for trespass. Dah! Come on Sheriff. Don't be a sheep.


An executive order is 'not a law?' Maybe not, but it has force of law. You might want to check the state constitution on that one.


Asa just lost my vote


Asa is basically losing the vote of everyone over 60 in this county.

Always A Teacher

Lost my vote too. This is senseless. If the mask offers some protection to the wearer AND to others nearby, why not WEAR it? It does not impede breathing. I guess it is okay to cross a street without stopping and looking both ways. It's my right to walk where I please. You drivers better stop though. What's the difference? See how high the level of stupidity has risen. My pets have more sense than most people. They understand to protect themselves.


I was disappointed to read Sheriff Buck's comments. As the high Sheriff of the county his words have impact. He is correct the Gov's order is poorly worded and filled with exemptions. That does not change what should be common sense. Saying they 'may' enforce trespassing laws, then later" will" enforce, along with " resolve without arrest" What message does that send? Its nod,nod,wink, wink, and gives tactic permission to the selfish and ignorant who decline to protect others by wearing a mask. Fl, Az, and TX were all slow to close and refused to order masks, and now have had to backtrack and order closures. Az even forbade local orders about masks till a week ago. The fact that president trump refuses to wear a mask ( can't smear that spay tan) has made this into a partisan political issue. Some ppl still say this is just the flu, its a plot. There are 120,000 DEAD and hospitalizations are rising. What I wish the High Sheriff would have said is " I hope the good citizens of Carteret County have the sense to wear a mask, social distance, and wash their hands frequently. I expect you will wear a mask when entering any local business. If My officers have to take time from their important duties, over some mask related foolishment you can expect a ride in the back of a squad car and a visit with the magistrate. Thats the type of leadership this county deserves.


Sounds like a threat from a police or government official who doesn't want to make a public statement and identify him/herself. I'll wear a mask like Governor Cooper does.....hanging from the side of my ear.


These comments by sheriff's are just pandering for elections. No LE agency has been given a mandate to go out and write mask tickets. For the no mask nuts, ask your Dr to take off his mask the next time you go in for surgery!

Core Sounder

when i see doctors and nurses not wearing mask then so will I. Am not depending on what some sheriff tells me about what is safe or not.


Some of the comments on here are killing me. The Sheriff is absolutely right and taking the same approach as other Sheriff's across the state. Only the Legislative branch of our government can make law, which the Sheriff is obligated to enforce. A Governor's Executive Order is not law. If a business feels they should follow this order and require all patrons to wear a mask, that is their prerogative. If someone refuses to do so and is then asked to leave, they are trespassing if they refuse. That is exactly what the Sheriff said they would enforce. He's not going to have his deputies respond to every all from some Karen who wants to report someone for not wearing a mask in public.


Doctors and nurses err on the side of not getting a lawsuit. What do you think they would say? I know a doctor who smokes but she tells her patients not to smoke. Dr mandy in Raleigh tells Cooper to mandate mask wearing but her numbers are fuzzy since Cooper was late to the game in Testing. I live in a county of 69.000 people with 37 cases of covid-19. And this was before the order to wear masks. You do the math.


Constitutional or not, masks have been mandated because they help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Period. Put on your big girl panties and deal with it. What Sheriff Buck has chosen to overlook is the likelihood that not reversing the upswing in the number of cases statewide will result in postponing Phase 3 indefinitely or worse, returning to Phase 1. In either case, businesses will continue to suffer economic devastation. And in the ensuing wake of closures and/or bankruptcies, he is going to have to live with his irresponsibility. He has lost not only my vote but my respect.


Truly it is the DARWIN virus. The same ppl who are constitutional scholars are now also infectious disease experts. If barack obama said " Don't drink that creek water its loaded with typhus", you can be sure 35% of the country, and 70% of Carteret county would be knocking each other out of the way to get a big slurp. " Its my right to drink that water and you caint tell me no different"


One thing left out of my previous post: This sheriff takes his position from the N.C. Sheriffs Association. Whatever that organizations position is what he will adopt. We didn't elect the Sheriffs Association, nor did we contemplate that body impacting our county. The first phone call the sheriff makes in any decision making event is that organization, without a doubt. Independent thinking is not practiced. We are one bad election away from the sheriff coming to get some or all of your guns.


The referenced previous post concerned Sheriff Buck avoiding answering questions about gun confiscation on citizens, what he would do or not do, and the use of force. To date, he has avoided this question. If the phrase, "Public Safety" is used in the law, he is fine with it. No matter the text of the law, or its lawfulness. The resolution supporting the Second Amendment means really nothing, lacks specificity, and is non-binding. This needs to be revisited by citizens for a more definitive answer from Sheriff Buck and the commissioners.


With cases increasing by 15 since Friday, I hope the sheriff has the good sense to ponder the word "mandated", perhaps revisit his thoughts and change his stance with an educated, informed decision. It's much more impressive to be a leader instead of a follower of other sheriff's across the state. Those counties are not beach communities. According to the grapevine, our elected sheriff may be perceived and/or compared to Rosco P. Coltrane of Hazzard County. Everyone remembers the fictional sheriff in Dukes of Hazzard who was the right hand man of a county commissioner named "Boss Hogg".

Have some common sense

I agree with Asa. Cooper has his own agenda in my opinion - I certainly didn't vote for the idiot. I know this statement will bring a lot of useless whining to the forum, but grow a spine people and stand behind what you believe in - do not just complain about it. I applaud our Sheriff for taking a stand - Thank you Sheriff Buck!!!!! M

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