SURING, Wis. (WBAY/Gray News) – The Oconto County district attorney charged the superintendent of the Suring school district with six counts of false imprisonment.
The charges stem from the January search of six students who were asked to strip down to their underwear to be searched for vape cartridges, WBAY reported.
District Attorney Edward Burke Jr. said Superintendent Kelly Casper directed the children into a small bathroom off the nurse’s office. Burke said Casper told the children to remove their clothing, and she stood in the doorway.
“Once the children removed their clothing, any opportunity they had to escape would have subjected them to further shame and embarrassment,” Burke wrote in a news release announcing the charges Monday.
He said no child was given an opportunity to leave or to contact their parents before being confined. “The only choice they were given was to have the search conducted by a police officer or Casper,” he said.
Burke previously declined to file charges, saying the search didn’t meet the legal definition of a “strip search” since the students were in their underwear. He said the investigation by the sheriff’s office focused on the search of the students, not their confinement.
Burke said the false imprisonment charges came after researching state statutes and administrative codes regarding how school employees can confine students.
According to the criminal complaint, false imprisonment is a felony. The superintendent faces up to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine on each count if convicted.
“I feel a lot of relief that something is being done, so we’re not setting an example in our little village of Suring for schools across the state of Wisconsin to be able to allow these type of things to happen to our students,” said Nicole, who declined to give her last name since her daughter is a victim.
Jeff Olson, a Madison-based civil rights lawyer hired by some of the parents, claimed the students’ Fourth Amendment rights were violated.
“One of these students had given them their e-cigarette. They still went through with strip searches down to their underwear and bra,” Olson said. “I think that’s bound to be a highly traumatic experience for young teenage girls.”
Olson said the DA’s criminal case could impact his civil suit against Suring Public Schools.
“Sometimes when they are confronted with a criminal prosecution, individuals that I am suing for damages take the Fifth Amendment,” Olson said.