Gwinnett solicitor: Fines possible for violations of emergency order

Since a stay-at-home order went into effect in Gwinnett County Saturday, residents aren't supposed to leave their houses unless it's essential.

The county solicitor wants to make sure residents get that message.

Brian Whiteside, Gwinnett’s solicitor general, announced this week that anyone violating the order could be fined $1,000 and spend up to 60 days in jail.

“It’s the duty of every citizen to comply,” Whiteside said Monday. “My first duty is to save lives.”

No one has been arrested for violating the order. And county officials said they don't want to lock people up — the intent is to get them to shut down businesses and promote social distancing to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

But Whiteside said he wanted to let residents know he has the power to prosecute violations to encourage compliance. He said he drove around last week — before the county order was in effect —and saw groups of people gathering and businesses that were continuing to serve customers, in violation of social distancing norms.

“I saw guys that jumped locks on basketball courts,” he said. “This is for them. I want you to hate me, but I want you to be alive.”

If people are arrested for trespassing or other violations, Whiteside said, he has the option of adding charges for violating the county's emergency order.

Various Gwinnett County cities made their own rules about gatherings and businesses that could stay open until last week, when they all coordinated with the county.

Charlotte Nash, the Gwinnett County Commission Chairman, said the change happened after Suwanee’s decision to close restaurants simply pushed patrons into nearby Sugar Hill. Suddenly, she said, “Sugar Hill had an issue they didn’t have before.”

She said the county will continue to clarify what activities are permitted under the stay-at-home order, which is in effect until April 13.

Whiteside said the county will continue to prioritize warning people about violations and educating them about the order. But if those attempts don’t work, he’s prepared to try punishment for “people who aren’t going to comply, and put [other] people in danger.”