Local News

Circus Suing Wilson County Sheriff

Posted August 28, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— The Clyde Beatty Cole Brothers Circus is suing Wilson County Sheriff Wayne Gay for trying to keep it from making a scheduled stop in Wilson next month. Gay is using a little-known law to keep the circus out.

North Carolina General Statute 106-516.1, passed in 1953, applies to counties that have annual agricultural fairs. It requires carnivals and circuses to get a permit to operate from the county sheriff. Gay said he can't give that permit to the Clyde Beatty Cole Brothers Circus, a point of law that will likely be argued in court.

The Florida-based Clyde Beatty Cole Brothers Circus wants to make its scheduled stop in Wilson next month, only five days before the county fair. Officials with the American Legion, the group that oversees the fair, said the circus will ruin its event.

Hinnant and the legion board have asked Gay to enforce the North Carolina statute that prohibits events like the circus from operating within 30 days of a county fair.

The circus is suing the sheriff, who said he'll arrest the circus manager and possibly his performers, if they open their show next month. Hinnant said the circus has violated the law at least twice before, and this year, it had to stop.

The circus said it challenged a similar law in Florida seven years ago and succeeded in getting it declared unconstitutional. Violating the North Carolina law is a misdemeanor that carries a fine, jail time, or both, and the decision is at the discretion of the court.