There may have been others, but this is the first instance I've heard where a Montana resident has been arrested for refusing to wear a mask. It happened in Great Falls this past Monday when a man would not put on a mask during jury selection. Judge John Larson of Missoula, who was filling in for the presiding judge, ordered Philip Dupaul of Cascade County to jail for 24-hours for contempt of court. The jury selection was taking place at a hotel in Great Falls to allow for more social distancing.

Under Governor Steve Bullock's July issued mandate, masks are required for court officials and the public during all court hearings and trials. Dupaul was asked by the judge to put on a mask, and when he refused, Judge Larson found him in contempt.

Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter was not happy. The same scenario had played out a few weeks before with a local judge, who he says was "able to successfully defuse the situation before issuing a contempt of court order; something commendable on her part."

Sheriff Slaughter issued a press release this week stating:

Months ago, I knew this mask issue may come to fruition, so I took the initiative and met with all of our local 8th District Court judges in Great Falls. They too require masks in their courtrooms, but they assured me they would not put me in a position where my Deputies would have to arrest a citizen (potential juror) for not wearing a mask. As a matter of fact, this same situation played out in Judge Best’s courtroom several weeks ago and she was able to successfully defuse the situation before issuing a contempt of court order; something commendable on her part. So, at that point, I was confident that we had this mask issue worked out and I would never have to deal with a citizen coming to jail for refusing to wear a mask in a courtroom setting.

What I failed to anticipate was that an out of town Judge from Missoula would not respect my concerns or the values of the people in Cascade County. Judge Larson is not accountable to the citizens of Cascade County, he felt he could do whatever he wanted. Judge Larson sentenced Phillip to jail for contempt of court because he refused to wear a mask, potentially exposing him to COVID at the Cascade County Detention Center.

The Friday before (Aug 21), the Cascade County Sheriff's Office reported a positive case of COVID-19 in the jail. That weekend, Sheriff Slaughter learned that testing had revealed an outbreak of 55 more positive results.

"Taking a healthy person," the sheriff said, "and ordering them to jail for not wearing a mask, where there is a known COVID outbreak, is reckless and very troublesome, especially over the highly contentious and debatable mask order."

Sheriff Slaughter apologized to Dupaul. "I am truly sorry for what happened to Phillip Dupaul under my watch. This was not justice of any kind; this was a Judge who used very poor judgment in our community"

According to the sheriff, Dupaul was was very upset and worried about being  incarcerated because of the jail's COVID-19 outbreak. "And rightfully so," Sheriff Slaughter added. "However, he has shown grace and accepted my apology."

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