EFFIE- Operators of the North Star Stampede rodeo in Effie are facing the possibility of thousands of dollars in fines after Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed a court action on Friday …
EFFIE- Operators of the North Star Stampede rodeo in Effie are facing the possibility of thousands of dollars in fines after Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed a court action on Friday alleging multiple violations of Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order regarding outdoor entertainment venues at last week’s event.
The complaint, filed in Itasca County District Court, alleged ten separate violations of the order, including such things as failure to limit occupancy to 25 percent of capacity, failure to provide for assigned seating to ensure proper social distancing, allowing the rodeo clown to engage in demonstrations and activities, and failure to ensure social distancing was maintained between household groups.
Ellison is asking the court for civil penalties of up to $25,000 for each violation specified in the complaint. Ellison is also seeking to recover all costs associated with bringing the court action. An email inquiry to the attorney general’s office by the Timberjay about whether the complaint seeks penalties for violations on separate days of the event or for the weekend as a whole was not returned.
The complaint states that on July 22, representatives of the Attorney General’s office and the state Health Department contacted Cimarron Pitzen, owner, president, and manager of North Star Ranch, to discuss Pitzen’s plans for complying with the required guidance for outdoor events. Pitzen allegedly became angry during the call and hung up. The complaint states that Pitzen did not respond to additional attempts to contact him.
The complaint provides detailed descriptions of alleged violations for each of the three official days of the event, and includes multiple photos taken each day to illustrate them.
The Department of Health issued a release last Friday indicating that an individual who attended the rodeo from July 23 to July 26 was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Monday, July 27, and that those who were in attendance at the event should take appropriate precautions to limit the potential spread of the virus.
“If you attended this event, you should consider yourself potentially exposed,” health commissioner Jan Malcolm said in the release.
She advised anyone who attended the rodeo to watch for symptoms of COVID-19. If attendees develop symptoms, they should seek treatment and get tested. She also asked attendees to limit their public interactions and activities for 14 days, practice social distancing, and wear masks in all interactions with others.
However, during a press conference on Monday, Aug. 3, Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease at the Minnesota Department of Health, said no new cases of COVID-19 associated with the rodeo had been reported.
“We have not seen additional cases, although we are continuing to monitor for that,” Ehresmann said. “We hope that, no matter how people feel about the various guidance that we’ve put forth, they would focus on their own health, and knowing that there was a potential for exposure at the event, if they start to develop symptoms we would encourage them to go and get tested for their own sake.”
Shortly after Ellison’s action was announced, the North Star Stampede Facebook page was teeming with comments from people condemning the action and offering to help the Pitzen family cope with any upcoming litigation and possible fines.
Numerous posts reinforced the notion of rodeo attendance being a form of protest and decried that the rodeo would be targeted while protests in the Twin Cities following the murder of George Floyd were allowed. One person suggested state officials were hypocritical for not stopping the rodeo, reasoning that if it posed such a significant health risk they were failing to protect the people who attended.
Facebook posters debated ways to provide financial support for legal expenses and possible fines, with most arguing against a national crowdsourcing site like GoFundMe, and instead promoting donations to a fund at an area bank. Three small businesses promised that proceeds from sales of items, and a party to be hosted by one, would be donated to the ranch.
However, one person did set up a GoFundMe campaign, with a goal of raising $50,000. As of Tuesday, after three days online, the campaign had received only one $50 donation.
A Change.org petition supporting the ranch against Ellison’s actions was faring better than the GoFundMe page. A goal of 7,000 signatures was eclipsed on Monday, and the number of signers was nearly 8,000 by early Tuesday afternoon.
Reinforcing numerous comments directed at Gov. Tim Walz, one person posted a video of South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem riding a horse and carrying a flag at a jam-packed rodeo arena in Deadwood, S.D., on July 25, which was also opening night for the North Star Stampede.
However, the outcry online will likely have little effect on Ellison or the enforcement action, as his statement released after the filing on Friday indicates.
“My office also is 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 said. “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.”