A Great Bend man was arrested Friday for openly violating a COVID-19 quarantine order and causing a number of disturbances, Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir said Monday morning. Tyler D. Witten, 32, remains in custody in the Barton County Jail under strict isolation.
Witten had direct and sustained contact with a person known to be positive for the disease.
Bellendir said Witten was served last week with the order by the Barton County Sheriff’s Office. But, he was non-cooperative with the Health Department.
“The director (Interim Health Director Karen Winkelman) and I went out later after he was served,” Bellendir said. “He was not uncooperative Thursday evening and we had information that he was in violation of the quarantine order, causing disturbances around town.”
Then, “Friday evening, I got a call from the Great Bend Police Department, and the individual was in violation of quarantine and was causing a disturbance at another residence,” he said. After consulting with Winkelman, the BCSO arrested Witten and he was placed in jail.
He was charged under the state statutes covering violations of quarantine orders. “I cannot say whether or not he is positive or not, but he is in quarantine at the jail,” Bellendir said.
“I was in consultation with the district court judges and the county attorney in this matter,” he said.
“We were faced with an impossible decision, he said. “Do I allow this guy to continue running around potentially exposing the public, or do I, potentially, expose my inmates in the jail? I erred on the side of protecting the public.”
They are able to keep him isolated because they had already reduced the jail population, he said. “I had an entire cell block that I could put this guy in by himself, so he is under quarantine.”
The only person who is having direct contact with him is Winkelman. “My staff is not having any direct contact with him,” he said.
His quarantine officially expires May 5. They will address what they’re going to do next at that point.
Bellendir said he has been tested. The results are pending.
However, “we’re treating it as a potential for infection,” he said. When he was booked, deputies donned full personal protective equipment.
“The problem is we’re dealing with everybody off the street, all the time,” he said. “We’re taking temperatures, everybody that comes in and out. If you come over, you’re going to get your temperature taken coming in and out of my jail.”
Even though he is isolated, “the problem is, my ventilation was not set up for quarantine,” the sheriff said. “So, we’re doing the best we can. Hopefully, he’s not a positive case. But we’ll deal with it as it comes.”
So far, he said, there have been no cases in the jail.
“I find this really sad that someone is not taking it seriously,” Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said. “But I think it shows that those people in leadership positions are taking it seriously. And that, if you’re given an order to stay home, that’s what it means and there are repercussions from that.”
She knows it puts Bellendir and the jail in a bad position. But, she said it was the right call.
“Rest assured, this was not an easy decision,” Bellendir said. “I realized what the dangers are exposing my jail population; we thought this through as best we could. And I just in good conscience cannot allow a danger to the public.”
But, Bellendir stressed, “I would say, by far, most of our quarantine order (recipients) are obeying in cooperating with the Health Department.”