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Minnesota AG Sues Rodeo Owner for Violating COVID-19 Order: 'No One is above the Law'

Newsweek logo Newsweek 8/1/2020 Brendan Cole
a close up of a cow: A bull is shown at a rodeo in Louisiana in this illustrative image. The organizers of a rodeo in Minnesota face legal action for flouting COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings. © Cooper Neill/Getty Images A bull is shown at a rodeo in Louisiana in this illustrative image. The organizers of a rodeo in Minnesota face legal action for flouting COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings.

Minnesota's Attorney General has announced legal action against the organizers of a rodeo for flouting state imposed safety precautions against the spread of COVID-19, after a large crowd assembled at its annual event.

At least one person attending North Star Stampede Rodeo in Effie, 225 miles north of the Twin Cities, tested positive for the disease and now hospitals in Itasca County are bracing themselves for a wave of tests.

Ahead of the event which took place between July 24 and July 26, the ranch and its owner, Cimarron Pitzen, had been in dispute with state officials who told him he would have to limit attendance to no more than 132 people to keep within the COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings imposed by Governor Tim Walz.

Pitzen took to Facebook to say that while the event would 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.'"

Over the course of the weekend, thousands of people turned up, The Minnesota Star Tribune reported, sparking a testy response by the state's Attorney General Keith Ellison who has filed a complaint in Itasca County District Court for alleged violations of the governor's executive order limiting attendance at public events during the pandemic.

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A state investigator turned up at the event to find that COVID-19 guidelines were not followed, the Attorney General's office said. "Once it accepted people inside, the rodeo accepted 'donations' and sold programs to attendees listing the rodeo's events, Ellison said in a statement issued on Friday.

"Attendees observed rodeo events, cheered for rodeo participants, and were entertained by a rodeo clown hired by North Star Ranch throughout each day."

Ellison said it was the first legal action his office has brought to enforce Walz's executive order, which restricts entertainment venues to 25 percent of their normal capacity, or 250 people, whichever is lower. It could result in a fine of up to $25,000 per violation.

"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 added.

Minnesota Deputy Attorney General James Canaday said: "Nobody is above the law, this has gone from being a theoretical concern to a very real concern for everybody who was at that event now and that's what we're trying to prevent," CBS Minnesota reported.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates daily new reported deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S.

a screenshot of a cell phone: Daily new reported deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. STATISTA © STATISTA Daily new reported deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. STATISTA

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