Nearly two dozen Minnesotans have been charged with violating Gov. Tim Walz’s emergency orders aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, revealing that authorities continue to tack on the count as a secondary offense to other crimes.
The charge — violating any emergency powers order or rule — was filed against a man accused of exposing his genitals to people on a bike trail, a man who allegedly met up with a prostitute at a suburban hotel and a business owner who kept his Brainerd lingerie and underwear store open, among others.
A total of 23 cases have been filed across the state between March and Monday morning. Walz began issuing several executive orders related to COVID-19 in mid-March, chief among them a mandate that Minnesotans not leave their homes except for food and other limited reasons, and a requirement that bars and restaurants suspend dine-in service.
The alleged violations were spread throughout the metro and ranged as far north as Crow Wing County south to Faribault County and as far east as Washington County to Traverse County in the west.
Several of the first cases that were charged by April 3 showed that police and prosecutors often added the charge to unrelated offenses that included drunken driving, shooting paintballs at houses and driving with a canceled license.
Fifteen additional cases disclosed Monday showed that the same practice was used in an overwhelming number of the new cases.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Minnesota has criticized such practices.
“Criminal charges should be the last resort,” Teresa Nelson, legal director of the ACLU of Minnesota, previously said.
Nelson has said that police appeared to use the violation to punish people for other crimes and were sometimes “mean-spirited” in their policing of the executive orders.
Walz and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety have encouraged education over enforcement of the orders while giving police broad discretion.
The offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. Misdemeanor convictions can harm someone’s housing and employment opportunities, Nelson has said.
The new cases included:
• A Butterfield, Minn., man was charged after allegedly fleeing a traffic stop and leading police on a 9-mile pursuit on April 7. His license had been canceled.
• A Chaska man was charged April 10 after allegedly arriving at a Roseville hotel to meet a prostitute he met online.
• A Shakopee man was cited April 7 on top of a theft count.
• A North Mankato man was charged April 10 after he allegedly drove to a gas station, passed a fake $100 bill to the clerk and received cash in return.
• A Worthington man was charged April 9 when police allegedly found him exposing his genitals to people on a bike path in Pine City.
• A Minneapolis woman and her husband were each charged April 8 in Nobles County after Worthington police stopped them in their vehicle and found 20 pounds of alleged methamphetamine and “large amounts of bundled cash” inside.
• An allegedly drunk Stanchfield man was charged April 10 after his truck became stuck in a construction zone in Pine City. He fled on foot despite an officer’s attempt to stop him, and tried to hide in a shed.
“Defendant’s conduct on this date did not fall within the exempted activities or critical sector work,” the charges said in referencing Walz’s orders.
The stay-at-home order allows leaving home for outdoor recreation, including driving for pleasure, among other reasons.
• Four people were cited by Farmington police on April 10 after they were found in a vehicle behind a closed business taking items. Some also faced drug, alcohol and seat belt-related charges.
• An Owatonna man was charged April 11 in Dakota County on top of a theft count.
• An Inver Grove Heights man was cited April 11 on top of a disorderly conduct charge.
• Ronald W. Beattie Jr., of Baxter, was charged April 9 after police found his lingerie and underwear store, Risky Business, open in Brainerd.
According to the charges: Police received information on March 31 that the store was open. An officer found two cars parked out front and the “open” sign lit up. A third vehicle pulled up. The officer reached Beattie, who was not at the store, by phone.
Beattie “stated that his store was an essential business as a ‘general merchandise’ store,” the charges said.
Walz has limited business operations to essential stores such as grocery stores, pharmacies and home improvement stores, among others.
A man who answered the phone at Risky Business on Monday declined to comment.