Arts & Culture

Anti-Somali controversy surrounds MN haunted house

Carson Hughes, A&E Editor

Scream Town, a Chaska-based haunted house, became the subject of intense backlash after a private message detailing a “zero tolerance” policy towards Somalis was leaked this past week. Carver County forced the haunted house to close its doors last Thursday, but after reaching a settlement with the county, Scream Town was open for business the following night.

    In the message of note, Matt Dunn, the owner of Scream Town, told employees that, when dealing with trouble from guests, “we are having a zero tolerance policy with Somalis. (Other guests, you make your best judgement call) but absolutely zero tolerance with Somalis.”

  The message prompted immediate outcry from the public and advocacy groups. Jaylani Hussein, Executive Director of The Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) chapter in Minnesota, called on the state to investigate Scream Town. “We urge the Minnesota Department of Human Rights to investigate the clear violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act by this discriminatory business policy targeting an ethnic and religious minority.”

      Dunn apologized on Scream Town’s Facebook page stating “Scream Town welcomes ALL people to our event … We apologize for any posts that were generalizing. That was not our intent. We had an incident with a select group of about 8-10 individuals last Saturday night that had been at our event earlier this year. They were removed from the event due to their actions. Our post was regarding these 8-10 people who were disrupting other guests and staff. We are deeply sorry how the message was written. We love our Somali customers. They have been long time fans of our show.”

       The Carver County Sheriff’s Office responded to the zero tolerance policy by severing all ties to Scream Town. “Mr. Dunn encouraged his employees to racially profile a targeted group and his comments are completely unacceptable,” said County Administrator David Hemze. “They do not comply with County policy, and they breached our contract with him.” Scream Town had initially contracted the Sheriff’s Office for security services. Without proper security, Scream Town was in violation of its permit and the county issued a stop work order ending Scream Town’s operations.

      However, the county reached a new agreement with Scream Town on Friday. While the contract between the county and Scream Town remains void, the county allowed Scream Town to continue operations as long as they hired private security. “Carver County does not tolerate discrimination from its employees or any businesses we work with, but we also understand that citizens want their government to be reasonable in their enforcement actions and this agreement allows for that,” said Hemze.

      Last Thursday, Dunn met with CAIR and had a conversation with Hussein, after which, Hussein accepted Dunn’s apology. “We found him to be very genuine about his apology to the community … For those people who are still pained, and maybe not completely satisfied, we think Matt is being very forward about it. What he said obviously was wrong, but as he informed us, that was never his intention.”

This article was originally published in the Oct. 19, 2018 issue.