ST. PAUL — Citations for violating Gov. Tim Walz’s orders to stay at home and halt business operations have started trickling in across the state.
As of Monday, April 6, eight people were charged with violating the emergency orders. The orders require bars and restaurants to halt dine-in services as well as having residents largely stay at home. Violating the order is a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $1,000 or 90 days in jail.
The first was issued in Faribault County on March 26. Two others have been issued in Dakota County, and one each in Hennepin, Ramsey, Washington, Traverse and Mille Lacs counties.
Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota say they are monitoring law enforcement’s response to the orders to make sure it doesn’t disproportionately impact communities of color or create adverse health risks.
“If criminal citations are necessary they should be handled by citation, not booking someone into jail where they cannot social distance,” said Teresa Nelson, the organization’s legal director. “We know the minute COVID-19 enters a facility it can spread like wildfire so that would be counterproductive to the intent of the (stay at home order).”
So far, Nelson said she wasn’t aware of anyone being booked into jail solely for violating one of the emergency orders.
Maplewood police issued a citation to Mahmoud Mohammad Salit on April 3 for continuing to operate his tobacco store on White Bear Avenue after officers warned one of his employees that the business did not meet the state’s “essential” criteria and had to close, said Lt. Dan Busack.
Salit could not be reached for comment Monday.
Dakota County issued citations to two people a couple of days earlier after responding to a call about someone shooting paint-balls at a residence, said Inver Grove Heights Patrol Cmdr. Dennis Haugland.
When officers responded, they found the vehicle involved and charged one of the occupants with criminal damage to property, possession of marijuana and violating an emergency order, court records say. A female passenger was cited for violating the emergency order.
The citations should not suggest the department is going after people who don’t follow the order, Haugland said.
“We are focusing heavily on education and trying to get the word out … and trying to follow the governor’s message to flatten the curve,” Haugland said. “(But these) two parties were out there doing things they probably shouldn’t have … They weren’t going to the store … They weren’t going to work.”
Cottage Grove charged a woman for driving after cancellation and violating the emergency order after an officer familiar with her “very lengthy history” pulled her over, said Cottage Grove Police Captain Randy McAlister.
Due to data privacy, McAlister said he wasn’t at liberty to disclose details, but said the officer had reason to believe the woman’s outing did not meet the state order’s allowable exceptions, which include leaving the house for essential travel, health and safety reasons, to get groceries and other services, to engage in outdoor activities or to care for another.
“We have made lots of traffic stops since the order went into effect and nobody else has received this citation,” McAlister said.
He added that the his department has fielded “multiple calls” from residents concerned about violations, noting that none of those resulted in citations either.
McAlister and other law enforcement spokespeople said their departments aim to educate people about the order.
As of Monday morning, St. Paul had not issued a citation, said spokesman Steve Linders, nor had the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Bob Fletcher said the department has received complaints though, including the continued use of basketball courts at some parks. That’s the one giving him particular concern, he said, because it involves close contact between players and a shared ball.
The department hopes signs now posted at parks will start deterring the games, but if that doesn’t work, the sheriff’s office plans to suggest its partner cities remove hoops.
“We hope we don’t have to take that measure but if we really want to stop the spread of this contagion we can’t be having basketball games,” he said.
The ACLU is concerned that so far law enforcement does not appear to be enforcing the order consistently, said Nelson. She warned against agencies tossing the violation onto a list of charges facing an individual suspected of more serious criminal conduct.
“It seems like police are kind of piling on violations on top of other charges … and that does not seem appropriate,” she said.