Attorney General Ellison takes legal action against Itasca County rodeo that defied COVID precautions

North Star Stampede attendance on July 23, 2020. Photo: Attorney General's Office. North Star Stampede attendance on July 23, 2020.

Josh Skluzacek
Updated: July 31, 2020 03:24 PM
Created: July 31, 2020 03:02 PM

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced Friday that his office has taken legal action against an Itasca County company for allowing large crowds to attend its three-day rodeo without taking required COVID-19 safety precautions.

The announcement came on the same day the Minnesota Department of Health announced at least one person who attended the rodeo tested positive for COVID-19 and was infectious when they attended the event.

According to Ellison, a representative from both his office and MDH spoke to the owner of North Star Ranch in Effie on July 22 to confirm it had implemented safety precautions for its annual rodeo. During that call, the owner became agitated and hung up, Ellison said. The owner later posted to the rodeo's Facebook page, "The North Star Stampede will take place with no spectators. If people would like to come and protest against this ridiculous Government Over Reach, feel free to do so, I will not stand in the way of peoples 'Right to Assemble.'"

The next day, thousands of people were reported to have attended the rodeo, which is far more than the maximum allowed under Executive Order 20-74 to curb the spread of COVID-19. Ellison's office said the rodeo accepted "donations" and sold programs to attendees as people packed in to watch the events.

Ellison's office also noted that when someone posted on the rodeo's Facebook page after the first day, "How did everything go today?" and attendee responded, "Great! Everyone just gave them a 'donation' and sat and watched the rodeo like always."

"Stopping the spread of COVID-19 is everyone's responsibility. It's in all Minnesotans' interest for businesses and events to comply with the law and the Governor's executive orders so that we can protect ourselves, our loved ones, our communities, and our livelihoods," Ellison said. "My office has been working successfully for months with businesses and events across Minnesota to help them understand the law and the Governor's executive orders so that they can operate responsibly and keep Minnesotans safe during this pandemic. In most cases, we've reached agreement that leads to voluntary compliance. Because we take the health of Minnesota's people and economy very seriously, we take our responsibility to educate and seek compliance very seriously.

"My office is also charged with enforcing the law and the Governor's executive orders when need be if we cannot gain compliance. We also take that duty seriously," Ellison continued. "Business owners and event operators need to know that they are not above the law. If they risk the health and safety of our communities, my office will take strong action, as we are doing today."

It's the first action taken by Ellison's office to enforce the executive order.

Ellison is seeking civil penalties of up to $25,000 per violation, plus restitution, disgorgement, and/or damages to the State.

Anyone who suspects violations of the executive order is urged to fill out this online form.

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