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Amendment would create tool to curb homecoming pranks, acts

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WILLMAR -- A proposed amendment to Kandiyohi County's nuisance ordinance would give law enforcement a tool to respond to unwanted homecoming pranks.

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The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to conduct a public hearing on the amendment at 10 a.m. Sept. 1.

If approved, it would be put in place just prior to the homecoming season this fall.

Violators could be charged with a petty misdemeanor of trespassing for the purpose of littering, which carries a fine of up to $300.

"We don't want to ruin everybody's homecoming fun," said County Attorney Boyd Beccue.

But he said the Sheriff's Department needs a "tool" to deal with complaints.

The amendment is in response to a homecoming-gone-bad case last year in rural Willmar that drew national attention.

Scott Wagar, who had been a repeated victim of homecoming vandalism, used a squirt gun filled with fox urine to douse kids who were part of a group of about 30 that were allegedly going to toilet-paper Wagar's house.

Wagar ended up being charged in the case, which drew public criticism.

The charges against Wagar were later dismissed.

Beccue said Tuesday that 10 juveniles were eventually charged, and pleaded guilty, to misdemeanor charges of criminal damage to property for damaging a soybean field next to Wagar's house.

Beccue was answering a commissioner's question Tuesday, and that is the first public statement he has made regarding the juveniles in the incident.

Juvenile cases are not public record in Minnesota unless there is a felony charge and the juvenile is at least 16. For that reason, the county attorney's office has not answered the Tribune's previous questions about the matter.

The Wagar case was the "tipping point" for taking action regarding homecoming pranks, said Beccue. After having conversations with the chairman of the Willmar School Board, Beccue said it was evident the school was reluctant to take action. "The school apparently is not going to act on this, so we feel compelled to do so," he told the commissioners.

Many families simply tolerate the annual homecoming rituals, or "laugh it off," said Beccue, and some high school students are disappointed if their house hasn't been struck by some mischief.

But for homeowners who don't want their trees draped with toilet paper or their house splattered with raw eggs, paint balls or worse, the amendment will give the Sheriff's Department legal authority to act when they receive a call.

Because state trespassing laws limit what authorities can do, Beccue and Kandiyohi County Sheriff Dan Hartog recommended changing the county nuisance ordinance to include trespassing for the purpose of littering.

The proposed amendment has a broad definition of litter that includes shaving cream, syrup, paint, toilet paper or any other kind of liquid, foam, refuse or solid material.

If the amendment is adopted, homeowners will now "have the knowledge that the sheriff has an extra tool," said Beccue. The ordinance would apply only to rural areas. Municipalities would have to pass their own ordinance.

The intent of the amendment isn't to "conspire against the young people." But Beccue said there needs to be a "balancing point" between teen fun and the people who call with complaints.

Several years ago the county adopted an ordinance to require paintball guns to be cased and transported in trunks of vehicles after homecoming incidents in the New London-Spicer School District got out of hand. There was concern that students would be injured in the face if they fired at each other from moving vehicles.

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