Oct. 4—MAPLETON — A woman holding a Black Lives Matter sign at a Maple River High School football game Friday night had it wrenched from her hands and thrown onto the sideline, prompting an investigation by the Mapleton Police Department.
Laura Nusser, who has two sons on the football team, said she chose to sit in the student section with her sign because of an incident her child had alleged earlier that day.
One of her sons, both of whom are biracial, reportedly told her a classmate had made an off-color comment during a homecoming activity about his going to the back of a line to wait behind mostly white students.
She told The Free Press she wanted students at the game to know some of their classmates think derogatory statements are funny.
Nusser called the school counselor about the incident Friday afternoon and wasn't satisfied with the response.
"I did communicate with our counselor that night, our superintendent and everybody, so we are aware of what — there are issues we don't know the details of at all yet," said Ted Simon, Maple River High School and Middle School principal, Monday morning.
"And that's essentially what we need to do: investigate and find out for sure what is going on."
On Friday night, Nusser grabbed a Black Lives Matter sign she had made last year and headed to the football game, leaving it in the car until the second quarter.
A Facebook video taken by a spectator and posted by Dion Thomas, who picketed outside the high school Monday morning, shows Nusser seated and holding the sign above her head when an older man approaches. Seemingly without any direct provocation by Nusser, the man lunges for the sign with both arms, wrests it from Nusser's hands as she yells, then tosses the sign over a railing onto the sideline.
"Adults and students are now calling him a brave man ... I'm being told I should of never brought racism to the homecoming game, I should have just put a sign in my yard," Nusser wrote on Facebook Friday night. "I didn't bring racism to homecoming, other students did. I came to the game to support my kids."
An officer returned the mangled sign to her that evening, its bottom slightly ripped. He told her he found it folded in a trash bin.
Mapleton police officer Andrew Hagen questioned witnesses in the bleachers and at one point followed Nusser to question the man who took the sign from her, as shown in an 18-minute Facebook live video she posted.
Disgruntled and stunned faces stare back at Nusser's phone camera throughout the video. Many spectators said aloud that she was lying and told her to go home.
Police made Nusser leave the venue at the request of Maple River school administrators because of her "offensive language," Mapleton Police Chief Benjamin Honsey said in a Sunday press release.
Throughout her video, which was filmed directly after the incident, Nusser at various points says most audience members are racists while an officer escorts her away from the bleachers. While standing in the bleachers, she once called the high school parents "f---- weirdos."
Nusser said it was unfair that she was forced to leave while the man, who was shown in her video to have returned to his seat after the incident, could stay.
She also claimed the man had lightly pushed her with his fingertips to her chest after he took the sign. She said his hat fell off in the struggle for the sign and she kicked it, enraging him and leading to the alleged push.
Hagen tells her in the video, "He did not push you," saying he talked to three people who hadn't corroborated that detail.
The Blue Earth County Attorney will review the case for possible criminal charges once the police investigation concludes. Police encourage anyone who saw or recorded the incident to call the department at 507-524-3091.
Attempts to reach and identify the man involved were unsuccessful.
"I wasn't really intending for it to be like that," Nusser said of the incident. "I wanted the students to see it — that's why I was over in the student section."
Standing outside of the 500-student secondary school early Monday morning, Maple River Schools Supt. Dan Anderson said a tripod video camera had been set up in case of any "excitement" in response to the incident. Principal Simon and Chief Honsey also stood nearby.
Dion Johnson, a 20-year-old former student at Maple River, stood outside along Silver Street holding a sign that said "Stop Prejudice," along with another showing his support for freedom of speech.
"I was pretty upset by the fact that this woman was not being allowed to express herself using her sign," he said. "Her sign was actually ripped from her hands and thrown onto the field."
Dozens of vehicles passed by on the busy road ahead of the school day's 8:05 a.m. start. A young man drove by in a truck with two Trump flags flying in its bed, his window rolled down as he smirked at Johnson.
"I was told there was gonna be a whole convoy of those suckers," Johnson said.
Teresa Miller, 53, was the only person to join Johnson on the sidewalk.
She had never protested before. But after driving past that morning and sitting at her desk in the local business she owns for a few minutes, she thought, "You know what, I'm gonna go stand with that kid.
"I have a granddaughter that's in first grade here. She's biracial," Miller said, adding that she had lived in Mapleton her whole life. "She's the third generation of our family that's gone to Maple River, and I just want her to have a good school to go to and no bias."
The principal said when students have concerns about mistreatment, they are told to share them with the school employee with whom they feel most comfortable. For student-athletes, that employee is often their coach.
As superintendent for over half a dozen years, Anderson said he finds students get along well in Maple River Schools. Asked whether he disagrees that any pervasive racial issues exist, he said yes.
"I would say, culturally, we have things in our state that we certainly have to work through, and schools are part of that. So we are part of that discussion," he said. "Here at school, things go quite well."