The organizers of a rodeo in the tiny northern Minnesota town of Effie are facing state punishment after disregarding warnings not to hold the event in violation of an executive order restricting the size of public gatherings. It’s the first time the state has brought an enforcement action against an entertainment venue that has operated “in open defiance of the law,” Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a news release.
Meanwhile, at least one person who attended the rodeo has tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
Ellison on Friday filed a complaint in Itasca County District Court against North Star Ranch for alleged violations of Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order limiting attendance at public events during the pandemic.
The ranch and its owner, Cimarron Pitzen, could face a fine of up to $25,000 for each violation of the order and be forced to give up any money collected at the event, as well as pay costs and attorney fees.
Pitzen, whose family has staged the rodeo since 1955, did not answer his phone Friday. The voice mail greeting on his answering machine said it was turned off.
Ellison’s complaint alleges that Pitzen became angry after state officials told him he’d have to limit attendance at the event, billed as the largest outdoor rodeo in the state.
Officials had told him that based on the venue’s size, no more than 132 people could attend.
After angrily and profanely ending a conversation with a representative of Ellison’s office, he took to Facebook and encouraged rodeo fans to protest, the complaint says.
“The North Star Stampede will take place with no spectators,” Pitzen wrote in a post two days before the scheduled July 24 start of the event. “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.’ ”
During the three days of the rodeo in the town of 118 residents about 225 miles north of the Twin Cities, Pitzen did not attempt to do the following, the complaint says: limit the crowd, enforce social distancing, provide assigned seating or implement common safety measures such as partitions between attendees and ticket sellers.
Thousands of spectators attended over the weekend, according to news reports cited in the complaint.
“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 in a news release. “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.
“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.”
The Health Department on Friday said that someone from a neighboring county attended the rodeo from July 23 through 26 and tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 after becoming ill on July 27.
Health officials are urging those who attended the rodeo to be alert to symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, cough and losing one’s sense of smell.
John Reinan • 612-673-7402