MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall stepped into the fray Friday after the City of Montgomery began sending police officers to local stores to limit the number of people inside.
The City of Montgomery had advised businesses they must limit the number of customers to 10 persons or less. The city said it was enforcing an Alabama state health order issued March 27, which limited the number of people who can gather.
The city’s decision led to lines forming outside several Montgomery grocery stores Friday morning.
Marshall said the city’s warning that businesses that do not comply with the state’s public health order are subject to either a fine or arrest is not enforceable.
“This order is based upon the City’s misinterpretation of the Order of the State Health Officer issued on March 27,” Marshall said in a statement.
Marshall said State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris has communicated this to Montgomery city officials.
"If the City of Montgomery, or any other municipality, wishes to impose more restrictive mandates on the operation of businesses during this time of emergency, it must do so by way of municipal power derived from Alabama law and exercise such power through lawful means and procedures.
Friday afternoon, the City released a statement indicating that the AG’s office had informed it that it was wrong. A city spokesperson said, “we have asked him to tell us what is right. And we will proceed according to his direction.”
Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed provided police officers with a letter they can show to business owners who are not following the social distancing guidelines. The letter is titled “Fine/Arrest Warning.”
The letter mentions that Ivey’s state health order requires all non-work-related gatherings to be less than 10 people and to follow the social distancing guidelines of maintaining a six-foot distance between persons.
Reed says any business lawfully open must abide by that order, adds that failure to comply is a criminal offense that can result in either a fine or arrest.
“We hope that there will eventually be a statewide order that will clarify this issue for the entire state of Alabama," Waller said, "but in the meantime, we are going to do whatever is necessary to protect the lives and wellbeing of the citizens of Montgomery.”
The number of coronavirus cases in Alabama continues to rise. As of Friday afternoon, there were more than 1,350 confirmed cases and 21 deaths.