KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Knox County’s sheriff is speaking about his decision to not enforce an impending federal vaccine order.
Last month, the president announced all businesses with 100 or more workers need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face weekly testing.
In a letter sent to the president on Monday, Sheriff Tom Spangler wrote that he won’t comply. A big push for him is staffing. The sheriff says retention is already a challenge, and if he were to enforce the mandate he could lose more employees. That, he says, puts citizens in danger.
“I’m not in a business, I’m in the line of protecting and serving the community here, and also making sure that our employees are out there doing what they’re able to do. And if we don’t have the employees to do it, that puts us in a very vicarious predicament, and I don’t want to be there,” Spangler said.
Spangler said he is not against the vaccine, but he is against the mandate and called it unconstitutional.
“It’s a civil obedience, if you will. It’s not a law. And when it becomes a law, we’ll deal with it again just like we are right now. We’re not choosing and picking, that’s not what we’re doing. When I say it’s unconstitutional, when you start mandating things on people outside of that constitution, that interpretation that I get, that’s where I’m at,” said Spangler.
The sheriff said he doesn’t know specifically how many employees he would lose under the mandate. He painted a clear picture that he doesn’t want that to happen. Spangler said full staff is close to 1,100 and they’ve currently got around 960.
Still, his decision could come at a cost.
“I don’t know how quickly the federal government is going to act on trying to impose a sanction on every single one of these folks. I think that would be really difficult and really time-consuming. So I would think it’s a likely concern or possible ramifications, but do I think it will happen quickly and will it necessarily happen? Probably not any time soon because of the amount of litigation that will probably surround that if the federal government chooses to move forward with trying to implement those sanctions,” said attorney Marcos Garza.
We also asked the sheriff if concerns about COVID in the jail and the loss of a deputy to the virus weighed into his stance. He said he doesn’t take the severity of COVID lightly at all, that he knows it’s there, but also knows there are decisions he says he has to make.