Minnesota AG sues rodeo owner for violating COVID-19 order

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison answers questions during a news conference in St. Paul in May. Ellison has filed a complaint against an Itasca County company that organized a three-day rodeo that allegedly drew large crowds after the state imposed a spectator limit for the event.
John Autey | Pioneer Press via AP, Pool file

Updated: 6:37 p.m.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison on Friday filed a complaint against an Itasca County company that organized and promoted a three-day rodeo that allegedly drew large crowds after the state imposed a spectator limit for the event.

Ellison's action came after the state Department of Health announced that one spectator who was at the North Star Stampede Rodeo in Effie, Minn. from July 23 through July 26, has tested positive for COVID-19. The person became ill on July 27 and was infectious at the time they attended the rodeo, Minnesota health officials said.

Ellison said the owner of North Star Ranch, LLC was upset with the governor's executive order to limit the event to 250 fans and promoted the event on its Facebook page as a protest against government overreach.

The complaint said there were “far more than 250 attendees” at each of the three events. State Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said on Friday that the virus may have spread faster at the rodeo than at large metro area protests earlier this summer.

“In this particular situation, we’re very aware that there was no social distancing and people were not wearing masks,” she said. “And while not everyone who was involved in mass gatherings in late may and early June were wearing masks, we know that a number of people did.”

Ellison is seeking unspecified damages against the company as well as up to $25,000 in civil penalties for each of the numerous violations described in the complaint.

The company's answering machine was not accepting messages Friday.

“Business owners and event operators need to know that they are not above the law." Ellison said in a statement. "If they risk the health and safety of our communities, my office will take strong action, as we are doing today.”

Health officials recommend people who went to the rodeo should social distance as much as possible for 14 days.

Correction (July 31, 2020): A previous version of this story had wrong dates when the spectator who tested positive for the virus attended the rodeo.

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