Is it time for a County social hosting ordinance?

On Memorial Day, when people under 21 were allegedly drinking and becoming intoxicated on property owned by Mille Lacs County Attorney Jan Jude, there was no law on the books in Mille Lacs County holding Jude and her police-officer husband Russ Jude accountable for the activity, had the couple been aware of the party.
The counties of Sherburne and Isanti and the city of Princeton have a social hosting ordinance, but Benton and Mille Lacs do not.
A social hosting ordinance prohibits people from having parties with alcoholic beverages for persons under age 21.
According to Mille Lacs County Sheriff Brent Lindgren, the Memorial Day party was on the Jude property in rural Foreston, but not at the Jude house. Jan Jude said in a statement that neither she nor her husband knew the party had been going on somewhere on their property until learning about it from authorities.
A Mille Lacs deputy went to the Jude home in the Foreston area to ask questions after an alleged unresponsive and intoxicated teen was taken by ambulance from a Milaca residence to Fairview Northland Medical Center in Princeton.
Several years ago there was a case of homeowners being gone from their home in rural Princeton and a party with alcohol and teens taking place without the knowledge of the homeowners. Authorities cited a number of persons at the party, some of whom attended Princeton High School at the time, with citations for minor consumption.
Another Mille Lacs case
Mille Lacs County dealt with two parties with minors and alcohol late last year in the rural Princeton and Long Siding area that was hosted by one person – Mitchell Bohn-Prokop, Princeton. He hosted the first party on Oct. 27, 2012, and the second one about two months later. The initial complaint report on the first party referred to it as a “rave,”a word for a large party. Deputies were called there when it was reported a 19-year-old woman, had suffered a head injury at the rave.
After Bohn-Prokop hosted the second party in the same area, Mille Lacs County prosecuted him on a charge of selling liquor without a license and operating a disorderly house, both gross misdemeanors.
Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Kent Larson said this week that the Bohn-Prokop case got Mille Lacs talking again about the idea of whether the county should pass a social hosting ordinance. But so far the county has not passed one.
It wasn’t the first time a social hosting ordinance was discussed in the county. Lindgren, the county’s police chiefs and the county attorney gather once a month to discuss issues in the county and possible actions to “progress the county,” Princeton Police Chief Brian Payne said.. At one of those meetings about two years ago it was asked if someone should look into pushing for a social hosting ordinance in Mille Lacs.
Jan Jude remembers the idea then being communicated to the Mille Lacs Board of Commissioners, but the commissioners were not interested enough to pursue it.
What prompted the social hosting ordinance discussion among Jan Jude and the county law enforcement leaders was the passing of a social hosting ordinance by the city of Princeton, Jan Jude said.
“I personally think it’s a good idea,” Payne said about having the ordinance. He called it “another tool in the tool box” of law enforcement to deal with social issues that might arise.
“Might arise” are key words. Payne said that when he started his job in law enforcement 27 years ago, parties of underage youth and alcohol were much more frequent.
Princeton, in fact, had its Shady Acres, acreage along the Rum River that for many years was undeveloped. The middle school and a housing development are now on part of that land.
Many years ago police were frequently called to Shady Acres to check out these parties, and no one knew who owned the land, Payne said.
With a social hosting ordinance, authorities have the tool to file charges if the property owner has either knowingly allowed a party with underage persons and alcohol to take place or actually hosted the party, Payne explained.
People used to call these parties “keggers,” or “field parties” that were in the middle of the woods or in fields, Payne said. There were also cases of a particular home having parties with alcohol and underage youth on a regular basis, he added.
Reminded of the Bohn-Prokop parties last year, Payne said those are out of the ordinary these days.
Payne and Sherburne County Attorney Kathleen Heaney said that a social hosting ordinance is not going to penalize the homeowner or parent who is not aware of such a party on their property or were not anticipating it to occur. If it is a place where the parties happen with regularity, there is a chance the property owner would be aware it might happen again, and that is a different case, Payne said.
But if it were a case, for example, of a farmer working all day in the hay field and going to bed tired and then learning later his son had put on a beer party with underage youth on the farmer’s property, the farmer is not going to be held liable, Payne said.
“If you have a parent who has no clue, or the parent is away when a big party is going on in the back 40,” that is not going to be a violation of a social hosting ordinance, Heaney said. “It’s not what a social hosting ordinance is for. It’s for parents who don’t care … who really don’t give a farthing.”
The social hosting ordinance is “really one tool to deal with one small segment,” Heaney saidShe also noted that Sherburne’s social hosting ordinance has degrees of punishment, with the penalties stepped up as the same person has repeat violations.
Heaney recalled Sherburne County having filed charges in at least one case under its social hosting ordinance.
Isanti County Attorney Jeff Edblad noted that Isanti County has brought a number of convictions under its social hosting ordinance. Edblad called the hosting of a party with alcohol for underage persons a “significant public safety issue.”
“I think it is something that makes a lot of sense in light of tragedies around the state,” Edblad continued. He was referring to cases where an underage persons have become injured, sometimes fatally, as a result of drinking alcohol. The cases have included underage persons dying from toxic poisoning due to excessive alcohol intake and becoming injured, sometimes fatally, when driving while intoxicated.
Isanti County’s social hosting ordinance is “crafted well,” with checks and balances, Edblad added. A property owner, for example, who is on vacation or is dealing with an illness to where they don’t know about a party taking place on the property is not going to be snared by the ordinance, he said.