Washington officer tells partygoers to stay ‘out of sight, out of mind’ after complaint about violation of Covid-19 restrictions

Washington officer tells partygoers to stay ‘out of sight, out of mind’ after complaint about violation of Covid-19 restrictions

A Pullman, Washington, police officer is heard in body camera video telling Washington State University women’s basketball coach Kamie Ethridge to have party guests “stay out of sight, out of mind” after he responded to a complaint of a gathering at Ethridge’s home last month.

The officer was dispatched to Ethridge’s home August 29 after a neighbor reported a large gathering in the front yard where no one was wearing a mask or social distancing, Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins said.

Washington state requires face masks in all public spaces because of the coronavirus pandemic. Pullman is in Whitman County, which is currently in Phase 3 of Washington’s Safe Start plan, meaning gatherings are limited to no more than 10 people.

CNN obtained video from the Pullman Police Department that shows more than a dozen people, who did not wear masks, were in attendance at the gathering.

In the video, the officer tells Ethridge someone called about the group of people in front of the home and lack of social distancing in place. The officer says, “We’re taking an education approach the best way we can. Unfortunately, our directive is to write tickets to those who aren’t abiding by that because there’s been a massive public outcry.”

The officer goes on to ask whether people at the party can wear masks before encouraging them to hold gatherings inside of the home or in the backyard.

“I’m going to give you the same advice I give everybody else. We’re pretty much between a rock and hard place when it comes to the community and stuff like that. Really, the key is out of sight, out of mind. So, backyard or in the house would definitely be better,” the officer is heard saying.

Jenkins says his department conducted random checks of body-worn camera video to check enforcement efforts and he knows of at least one other event in which an officer gave similar advice.

“After I saw this video, I sent out communication to my staff to make it clear that our messaging is to be that our goal is to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our community, and that we are doing that through trying to achieve compliance with the proclamation requirements of the state and through our nuisance party ordinance,” Jenkins said.

No disciplinary action was taken against the officer in the video because he didn’t violate any policies, according to Jenkins.

“They’re in a tough spot. I mean I get why the officers are struggling with the enforcement of this. We’re kind of breaking new ground. While we have our nuisance party ordinance, it was originally intended for hosts who hold parties with underage drinking,” Jenkins said.

Ethridge was issued a ticket for the party hosted on her property, the police chief said.

Ethridge apologized “for the violation of our local social distancing guidelines,” in a statement issued by Washington State University Athletics on her behalf.

“There was a gathering held on my driveway, of which I did not host. But as the guidelines state, the owner of the property is responsible for maintaining proper social distancing and mask wearing for all that are in attendance. As this did occur on my property, I take full responsibility.

“I appreciate the hard work being done by our Whitman County Health officials to keep our community as safe as possible during this pandemic. As a role model in our community, I will work to set a better example,” Ethridge said in the statement.

Jenkins said WSU is holding primarily virtual classes right now, but many students chose to return to the Pullman campus in September. The Washington Department of Health reported a spike in Covid-19 cases in Whitman County.