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Northeast Wisconsin school administrator faces charges after students were forced to remove clothes in a search

Suring school district administrator Kelly Casper charged with 6 counts of false imprisonment

Gavel and books on a desk
Joe Gratz (CC)

The district administrator at a northeast Wisconsin school has been charged with six counts of false imprisonment after six students were forced to remove their clothes to be searched for vaping materials in January.

Suring School administrator Kelly Casper confined six students to a restroom off the school nurse’s office to be searched on Jan. 18, according to a news release from the Oconto County District Attorney Edward Burke. Burke initially didn’t file charges because he said the search did not meet Wisconsin’s legal definition of a strip search. The new charges are instead for confinement; Burke said in the news release that Casper lacked the legal authority to confine students to the restroom, and that they did not consent to being confined.

Casper did not respond to a request for comment.

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According to the DA, Casper directed the students to remove their clothing and stood in the doorway. The students didn’t have an opportunity to contact their parents before being confined to the bathroom.

“Once the children removed their clothing, any opportunity they had to escape would have subjected them to further shame and embarrassment,” Burke said in the news release. “None of the children involved were given the opportunity to leave. The only choice they were given was to have the search conducted by a police officer or Casper.”

Under Wisconsin statute, false imprisonment is a Class H felony with a maximum penalty of six years in jail, a $10,000 fine, or both.

In February, some of the families of the girls who were searched hired civil rights attorney Jeff Scott Olson. Olson has previously represented Superior’s city attorney in a libel case, a group of Ashland County women who alleged sexual misconduct at the Ashland County Jail, and a man who was arrested during a crackdown on protests at the state Capitol in 2014. He did not say how many of the families hired him.

Olson said the new charges were unexpected, as he and the families had met with Burke over Zoom a few days ago, and Burke was sticking to his initial decision to not file charges.

“I’ve been practicing law for almost 45 years, and I was pretty much thinking that nothing surprises me anymore,” Olson said. “That did.”

Olson said his office should now be able to get the files from the sheriff’s office’s investigation into the January confinement and search, as those are available under public records access law only after an investigation has concluded — typically by the decision to not file any charges, or the creation of a criminal case by filing charges. After gathering information from law enforcement and the school, he says he’ll likely submit a settlement proposal to the district’s insurance company. If they can’t come to a settlement agreement, Olson said he’s prepared to go to federal court over the violation of the students’ Fourth Amendment right against unlawful search and seizure.