OCONTO – A judge on Tuesday dismissed the false imprisonment criminal charges filed against the Suring School District superintendent.
Judge Marc Hammer found there were insufficient facts in the criminal complaint to support the six counts of false imprisonment against Kelly Casper of Coleman.
“There’s nothing here that would allow me to conclude that there was a lack of consent or the defendant would know there was a lack of consent, or that she would know she did not have lawful authority to confine or restrain,” Hammer said.
Nearly 50 supporters of Casper’s in the gallery behind the defense table broke into applause at Hammer's decision.
Casper, 52, was charged Feb. 28 with confining the students Jan. 17 without authority so they could be strip searched for vaping products. Casper was placed on paid administrative leave by the school board March 2.
District Attorney Edward Burke, when he announced the filing of the charges, said Casper lacked legal authority to confine the students. He said the children weren’t given a chance to call their parents before being confined to the bathroom, and only allowed to choose between a search conducted by Casper or a police officer.
Burke had previously determined the searches themselves did not violate state law because the students’ private areas were not exposed, though one youth claimed her breasts were exposed when she lifted or pulled her bra away from her body during the search.
“The issue isn’t whether or not she had the ability to search, the issue is whether she had the reasonable authority to do what she did in conducting the searches,” Burke told Hammer. “And from the state’s point of view, the confinement as defined by the statute and the jury instructions, she limited their freedom of movement.”
Because they were only partially clothed, the students had no option to leave, Burke contended.
“The question is did she go too far when she took them into that bathroom and had them remove their clothing,” he said.
In his motion to dismiss, defense attorney Corey Chirafisi of Madison asserted the students were “not genuinely restrained or confined” to a bathroom adjacent to the nurse’s offices and were taken there so the searches could be conducted privately. The motion also noted the state allows students to be removed from classrooms and confined.
Chirafisi argued the state’s concession that the students could be searched “is fatal” to its position on the charges, as that law clearly allows searches in schools based on reasonable suspicion. He also pointed to a state Attorney General opinion that students are supposed to be moved for a search to avoid embarrassment.
“Why wouldn’t she be able to take them into a room?” he asked. “Forget the strip search — if she puts them in a room to confine them to do something that she’s allowed to do because there’s reasonable suspicion, I think we’re done.”
The criminal complaint provides ample reasonable suspicion and lacks the requirements that students were unwilling to consent to the search and that Casper lacked the authority to do that, he added.
“There is not a word — a word — in this complaint that these the students … voiced any objection to the searches,” Chirafisi said.
One of the six youths alleged to have been unlawfully confined, who attended the hearing with several women — presumably parents or other relatives — took the opportunity under Marsy’s Law to address the court.
“Some of the things that have been said are not necessarily true,” the girl stated. “Ms. Casper told us that if we did not do this and follow her to a room with her, while she searched us, we were just going to get into more trouble than we already would have been in.”
The searched students spent the rest of the day in the office, she added.
In the criminal complaint, the six girls told an Oconto County Sheriff’s Office investigator similar stories about how they were taken into a bathroom in the nurse’s office and told to remove their clothing to their underwear. Two of the girls were allowed to keep their leggings on.
The girls were between the ages of 14-17 at the time.
The searches turned up two vape cartridges. Another student admitted having a vape on her.
Hammer said based on the complaint, the students went to the nurse’s office without an objected or expressed an objection or desire to leave the room, though one apparently stated she didn’t want to remove her clothing.
“If the student had that sense of presence to know, ‘I don’t have to do that, and I’m not going to do that, I’m not going to take my clothes off,’ it’s difficult for me to conclude somehow they wouldn’t know they have the right to say, ‘I’m going to call my parents, I’m going to leave this room, I’m not comfortable here,’ but none of that’s in the complaint,” Hammer said. “It’s very, very difficult for me to conclude from these facts there there was a confinement without consent.”
Hammer — who noted that he believed the complaint was filed in good faith and not brought with any ill will, malice or some type of agenda — granted the motion to dismiss without prejudice, meaning Burke could refile these or other charges.
Hammer, who is a judge in Brown County, was assigned to oversee the case after both judges in Oconto County recused themselves because of their relationship with Wayne Sleeter, who at the time the charges were filed was president of the Suring School Board. Sleeter, who was defeated in his reelection bid in April, is the Technology Services Director for Oconto County.
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Contact Kent Tempus at (920) 431-8226 or email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Charges against Suring superintendent over strip search dismissed