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First charges for breaking Minnesota stay-at-home order are... a little sketchy

Most people cited for the temporary crime of violating the stay-at-home order were already in trouble for something else.

Most people cited for the temporary crime of violating the stay-at-home order were already in trouble for something else. Associated Press

Last week, we reported police in Minnesota's most populous cities had yet to arrest anyone for violating the emergency executive order requiring people to stay in their homes when possible

Instead of strict enforcement, cops seemed focused on warning people of the new rules—"education and voluntary compliance," as Mike Ernster of the St. Paul Police Department put it, with arresting someone a "last resort." 

The Star Tribune reports eight Minnesotans have been charged with the crime of breaking one of Gov. Tim Walz's executive orders. In the majority of cases, cops were actually busting those people for committing some other, more serious crime, with the violation of an executive order merely tacked on as an extra offense.

Among those accused of breaking the order:

  • A man arrested in Inver Grove Heights for shooting paintballs at houses and posessing marijuana; his female companion was also accused of breaking the order
  • A Cottage Grove woman who was allegedly driving without a license; she said she'd stopped at a storage facility and a Taco Bell before being pulled over
  • An Elk River woman charged with drunk driving
  • A Browns Valley man who was also hit with a trespassing charge
  • An Minneapolis man whose arrest in Eden Prairie came as police "responded to a call about a stolen vehicle."

The pattern is "discouraging," says American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Minnesota legal director Teresa Nelson, who sees these misdemeanor charges—which carry a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail or a $1,000 fine—as overly punitive.

"What is the point of pursuing this misdemeanor charge along with the other things?" Nelson asked. "Why not just focus on the main bad behaviors?"

The case against David Schuster, of Winnebago, is slightly less sympathetic. Schuster owns a bar in that town, according to the Star Tribune, and was caught playing a card game with three other men on March 22, five days after Walz ordered bars and restaurants to close except for takeout or delivery service. 

When a cop asked about the gathering, Schuster first said it "doesn't matter." When the officer broke up the game and informed Schuster he was being cited for breaking the order, the bar owner "continued to protest, noting that this was communism."