Scream Town, the popular west metro Halloween haunt that came under fire this week after its owner made a disparaging comment about Somali-American customers to employees, has been shut down.
Carver County Administrator David Hemze said Thursday that he terminated the county’s contract with the landowner, Eden Prairie-based SSP Holdings, in the wake of Scream Town owner Matt Dunn’s post violating their contract.
“There’s a stop-work order posted on their driveway, which literally means they cannot continue with the event, and I’m hoping that they don’t,” Hemze said. “If they do, it would be in violation of that stop order and we would take enforcement action.”
In order for Dunn to legally operate Scream Town, he’d have to move the haunt to another site, Hemze said.
In response, Dunn released a statement that said, “We are shocked at the fact that the county has taken this action. We believe their act to be illegal, and we are immediately reviewing our legal options.”
Scream Town was closed Thursday, but Dunn said in an e-mail Thursday night that he still plans to open Friday evening as scheduled.
According to screenshots of the original note, Dunn wrote in a closed Facebook group for Scream Town actors: “Note that we are having a zero-tolerance policy with Somalis. (Other guests, you can make your best judgment call.) But absolutely zero tolerance with Somalis.”
Dunn has since apologized on Scream Town’s public Facebook page, saying that safety is a top priority, and that his first post “seemed to generalize.”
The full apology reads: “Scream Town welcomes ALL people to our event. We love our guests and we love our fans. Safety and security for our actors and guests is our top priority. We apologize for any posts that seemed to generalize. That was not our intent. All are welcome and we thank you for your business.”
Scream Town, on about 30 rented acres near Chaska, has been considered one of the country’s best haunted attractions. According to its website, it has “hayride like experiences, but with haunted walking trails.”
Its season had been scheduled from Sept. 28 to Nov. 3.
Dunn said Tuesday evening that the post came after a group of eight to 10 teenagers had caused trouble at Scream Town. He said that the original post was poorly worded. “It wasn’t a message to all Somali folks,” he said. “This was a terrible misunderstanding.”
Earlier this week, the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations asked the state Department of Human Rights to investigate Dunn’s comments.
In a video posted to the Scream Town Facebook page Thursday evening, CAIR-MN Executive Director Jaylani Hussein publicly accepted Dunn’s apology and asked the community to move forward.
“We found him to be very genuine about his apology to the community,” Hussein said in the video. “We recognize there are lots of people pained and frustrated with what they saw.”
Dunn then apologizes and says, “I want to let the Somali community know that we love you … you are welcome, as always.”
Hussein could not be reached Thursday to clarify when the video was filmed.
County officials investigated after Dunn’s anti-Somali remark came to light this week.
Hemze, along with Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson and County Attorney Mark Metz, determined that Dunn’s comment not only violated local and federal anti-discrimination laws, but also Scream Town’s contract with the Sheriff’s Office for security, traffic and crowd control.
That contract states, in part: “Parties agree to the following: no person shall, on the grounds of race, color, religion, age, sex, disability, marital status, public assistance status, criminal record, creed or national origin be excluded from full employment rights in, participation in, be denied the benefits of or be otherwise subjected to discrimination under any and all applicable Federal and State laws against discrimination.”
In breaching the contract, Dunn also violated terms in his permit for a haunted attraction, which requires sheriff’s deputies to patrol highway traffic. Since the patrolling contract was terminated, the county issued the stop-work order under its permit enforcement policies.
SSP Holdings, the landowner, did not return calls for comment Thursday night.
County Board Chairman Gayle Degler said in a statement, “Carver County unequivocally does not allow anyone in its organization to discriminate based on national origin or race, and we most certainly will not contract with any business that discriminates or has discriminatory policies.”
Karen Zamora • 612-673-4647 Twitter: @KarenAnelZamora