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High school seniors' traditional ATV parade broken up by police

The North Branch Police Department has defended its actions, saying the parade was illegal.

Police in North Branch have explained why they broke up an ATV parade of seniors, after coming in for criticism for stopping the high school tradition.

In a lengthy post on Facebook, North Branch PD responded to a "great amount of calls, comments and concerns" about its decision to stop the parade of around 30 ATVs, dirt bikes and side-by-sides on Thursday morning.

It says its attention was originally drawn to the parade after someone made a driving complaint on the Athens Trail with one of the ATVs involved driving carelessly.

When officers caught up with the parade, they found all the vehicles riding up to 4 abreast on a public road and on the shoulder, while several others were riding in a ditch and jumping driveways.

As the department pointed out, DNR guidelines say most off-highway motorcycles (OHM) are not allowed anywhere except private property or designated trails, of "which we do not have any within the city."

Class 1 ATVs meanwhile can only go on county roads for agricultural purposes ("which this was not"), while Class 2 ATVs must stay on the far right of the road.

"With the violations of riding the ditch by all 3 styles, riding multiple abreast on the shoulder and lane of travel, it was decided to turn and stop the ATVs," the police said.

Police noted that one of the ATVs overtook a squad car while its lights were flashing, leading to a citation. Another was arrested and charged for fleeing the scene, and was caught later by the Chisago County Sheriff's Office.

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The others didn't face any punishment, with a nearby property owner offering up their land to shift the ATVs onto until they could be collected.

Nonetheless, the department received a number of negative posts on its Facebook page, with some pointing out that the ATV parade is a well-known tradition that has been running for many years, while some accused police of overreacting.

Others defended the department however for upholding the law and ensuring the safety of the students, with police noting that several riders had "helmets" that were "nothing more than hard hats."

"If this had actually been done safely there would not have been cause for the stop," North Branch PD said. "The lead officer in the incident has been with the department since 2001 and is the first time he felt that intervention was warranted."

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