Bars across North Dakota accused of violating governor's order

iStock / Special to The Forum

FARGO — Several bar owners in North Dakota have been written up for allegedly violating the governor’s executive order to close their doors during a coronavirus pandemic, including one who received five citations and says his civil rights have been violated.

Law enforcement officers have written a total of 13 citations to the owners and managers of seven bars since Gov. Doug Burgum banned dine-in and on-sale liquor services inside restaurants and bars beginning March 20. That order has been extended to April 30.

Most of the cases are listed as infractions and misdemeanors, and each violation carries a $1,000 fine.

Around 10 p.m. April 2, Bradley Ertelt was written up for serving alcohol in the Roadhouse Bar in Fingal, a town about 60 miles southwest of Fargo. Ertelt told a Barnes County sheriff’s deputy the six individuals seated at the bar were waiting for pizza, according to court documents.

Patrons at the McGregor Bar in northwestern North Dakota apparently had the same excuse. They told Williams County sheriff’s deputies they were waiting for pizza when the deputies walked into the bar on April 1, according to court documents. Bar owner Jorel Gohrick and manager Bobbi Oliver received citations.


In both instances, deputies did not observe any pizza being baked, but they found cups filled with mixed drinks and open beer containers at the bars, court documents said.

Kenneth Risovi and Jodi Cooper received citations March 29 for allegedly opening the Bremen Bar in Wells County, about 50 miles southwest of Devils Lake. No further information was available regarding what led to those citations.

The Forum was unable to connect with Risovi, Cooper, Ertelt, Oliver and Gohrick by phone.

'A danger to my freedoms'

David Corum, owner of the Gunslinger Bar in Bottineau County’s Willow City, N.D., was written up five times between March 25 and March 28, including twice on March 27. A sign hangs on the bar that says Corum is not selling alcohol, but people were allowed to come in and make a donation to drink beer, he told The Forum.

He considers his bar in north-central North Dakota private property, adding that the government should not be able to tell him what to do with it.

“They absolutely are a danger to my freedoms,” Corum said of executive orders related to the coronavirus. “There’s an agenda here, and nobody’s worried about … my health.”

As part of his bond conditions, Corum cannot let people gather or drink alcohol in his bar.

The pandemic has been hard on everyone, especially businesses, Bottineau County Sheriff Steve Watson said. He wrote the first citation to Corum.


“The hard part out here is, I know people have a business. We’re taking money away,” Watson said. “Everybody’s got to do their part.”

If people don’t abide by the order and someone dies because of it, the sheriff said, “that death is on your shoulders."

Corum said he was sympathetic to those who died, but he called the orders an attack on the Bill of Rights. When asked if he would bring a civil lawsuit against Burgum, Corum said if he had the money, “you bet I would, in the blink of an eye.”

“This is an act of war against the American public,” Corum said.

PHOTO: Willow City bar operator David Corum
David Corum, operator of the Gunslinger Grill in Willow City, N.D., is seen here in one of many YouTube videos he's published protesting the restrictions placed on his business during the coronavirus pandemic. Special to The Forum

'If you're wrong, you're wrong'

Other bar owners seemed more understanding of the order.

David Watterud, owner of Nooners Tavern in Noonan, N.D., was written up on April 9 after he and his employees were painting and cleaning the building. He told The Forum the bar in northwest North Dakota, less than 10 miles south of the Canadian border, wasn’t open.


Watterud, who's hired an attorney, said he understood the executive order is in place to keep people safe.

“If you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” he said. “If they figure I’m in the wrong, the law is the law.”

Brandon Johnson of Fargo was written up April 1, according to a citation. The owner of the Fort Saloon and Mess Hall in Abercrombie, N.D., said he was serving food to go when police said he couldn't have people inside the bar.

Takeout, delivery and curbside services are allowed under the governor's order, which is why Johnson pleaded not guilty. "There was a little confusion there," he said.

Kidder County Sheriff Barry Vannatta wrote up Leon Wolff, owner of Wolff’s Grill and Bar in Dawson, N.D., on April 6 after seeing four people, including Wolff, inside the bar. Wolff told The Forum he and others were in the bar eating food and having a beer after a day of working with cattle.

Wolff said the bar wasn’t open for business, and he understands why the governor ordered people not to gather.

Still, he said groups of more than 10 people are gathering at other places, like gas stations. He said Burgum should sign an order to prevent people from going inside convenience stores.

“I wasn’t breaking the law,” Wolff said.


Vannatta said he and his officers are taking the executive order very seriously, and will check on bars if there are reports they are open. “We’re going to act on it,” he said.

Johnson said he doesn't have a strong opinion on the executive order, but he is nervous about losing business.

"If you watch the media enough, it kind of scares you," he said. "What I know is I'm going to do as I'm told now. I don't feel like paying $1,000 bucks or jeopardizing my license."

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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