GREENE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - A Charlottesville emergency physician was pulled over by a Greene County Sheriff’s Deputy who repeatedly refused to wear a mask when asked to do so. Greene County’s Sheriff says he is not mandating that his employees wear masks.
Earlier this month, Dr. Amita Sudhir was pulled over on a stretch of Route 29 in Greene County by a sheriff’s deputy she says was not wearing a mask. During the course of the traffic stop, Dr. Sudhir asked him to put a mask on. He declined to do so, saying it was his constitutional right not to.
“I told him ’I’m uncomfortable you don’t have a mask on and you’re right by my window,’” Sudhir recalled. “‘Could you put one on?’ and he said ’No, it’s my constitutional right not to wear a mask,’ and then he walked away to write the ticket.”
Sudhir says she and the deputy spoke at length about the risk and public health necessity of wearing masks. She says that the law enforcement officer acknowledged the threat of the pandemic, but expressed doubts about wearing masks.
“I, obviously, had the window open for most of this interaction,” Sudhir said. “My kids are in the backseat.”
Sudhir works in an emergency room in Charlottesville, putting herself at a higher risk for the virus, and exposing her to the importance of wearing masks. She says that wearing a mask is an important part of public safety during the pandemic. She thinks the sheriff should require his staff to wear them, and says it is as much about protecting police officers as the people they interact with.
“They come face-to-face with the public in all kinds of situations, unpredictable situations,” Sudhir explained. “Not wearing a mask and having somebody spit in your face, or do something especially dangerous, could happen to anyone that interacts with the public, especially in dangerous situations.”
Greene County Sheriff Steve Smith declined an interview for this story. Smith did confirm to NBC29 that he leaves the decision to wear a mask or not up to his individual deputies. He added that if Dr. Sudhir didn’t want to risk confronting a deputy not wearing a mask, she shouldn’t have been speeding.
Sudhir argues the whole experience is why a national mask mandate is necessary.
“I don’t think it should necessarily be left up to the whim of local jurisdictions,” Sudhir said. “It should come from well above, and it should be something that is made to be enforceable.”
Sheriff Smith did say that he has already been contacted by the Thomas Jefferson Health District regarding the incident. He did not offer any specifics about that conversation.