Warren County sheriff bucks state COVID-19 orders, questions response

Warren County Sheriff Larry Sims’s office is not enforcing state restrictions placed on businesses to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Sims, in office since January 2009, acknowledged he was a leader in the community and emphasized he took this responsibility very seriously.

“Being a leader doesn’t necessarily mean I follow along with something I think is wrong,” Sims said Tuesday after a meeting of the Warren County Board of Commissioners.

At the meeting, Sims was among Warren County officials who backed plans to appeal to Gov. Mike DeWine to lift restrictions, including those preventing the opening of Kings Island Amusement Park and the new county sports park.

Sims said he spoke directly to DeWine of his objections to the state orders and their “crushing” effect on local business.

“At the end of the day we disagree. I’m not the one in charge of the State of Ohio,” Sims said, emphasizing he respected the governor.

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DeWine’s office and the Ohio Department of Health did not respond to a requests for comment.

Sims said his office would serve court papers in actions brought over COVID-19 restrictions by the health officials.

However, he said his office would not be involved in law enforcement of the health orders, including filing charges for violations.

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The sheriff said his office had made its position clear in calls responding to questions about the implications for businesses reopening in recent weeks.

“We are not going to be in the enforcement end of that,” he said. “We’re not coming out there and shutting you down.”

Sims also indicated he was avoiding, when possible, places where masks were required for entrance.

“I will opt to go somewhere else,” he said.

Sims attended Tuesday’s commission meeting due to continued discussion about who should pay for delays on construction of the new sheriff’s office and jail, related to coronavirus concerns, although the project was designated essential by the county.

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The commissioners continued to discuss bringing a lawsuit to open Kings Island and the Warren County Sports Park at Union Village.

Commissioner Tom Grossmann said he was completing a letter from the commissioners in hopes of convincing the state to issue new orders clearing the way for the opening of the two tourist attractions.

“I hope we can come up with something persuasive,” Grossmann said.

Commissioner Dave Young said DeWine ended their telephone call on the issue — effecting tourism, the county’s “No. 1 industry” — to take a call from another governor.

“The governor was very hesitant,” Young said, although international theme parks are opening.

“Our economy is in a state of emergency,” Young said.

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Grossmann said his research showed the county lost two tournaments coming to the sports park and expected to bring in $20 million in economic impact to the region when the state failed to respond to a proposed set of guidelines permitting them to go on.

“They never heard back,” Grossmann said. “I don’t understand any longer what we are doing.”

In addition, rather than ordering elderly residents to take steps to avoid exposure, the sheriff said, ““Let those people decide.”

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Sims also expressed skepticism about how deaths from the virus are being tallied and questioned the need for widespread testing.

“We just aren’t in agreement with this,” Sims said.

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