Crook County DA: Principal won't be charged in incident

Crooked River Elem. principal was on paid leave

PRINEVILLE, Ore. - (Update: Adding name of other DA, final decision by Vitolins)

Crooked River Elementary School Principal Cheri Rasmussen, placed on paid leave last month for undisclosed reasons, won't be criminally charged for an incident involving a first-grader, Crook County District Attorney Daina Vitolins announced Wednesday, after a review of the matter by another county's chief prosecutor.

Here is Vitolins' news release, in full. We'll have more information as it develops:

"On April 28, 2017, this office received reports from the Prineville Police Department.  Their investigation began with a report of a criminal physical harassment, in violation of ORS 166.065, allegedly committed at the Crooked River Elementary School, by the school’s principal, Cheri Rasmussen.

The investigation began on April 19, 2017, when officers responded to the allegations and interviewed school staff. Several staff members were interviewed and relayed essentially the same information. 

On April 12, 2017, a male first-grade student was brought to the principal’s office as a discipline, for refusing to do his school work.  He was sitting directly outside of Ms. Rasmussen’s office. Ms. Rasmussen was in her office dealing with another unrelated discipline issue.

While sitting outside of Ms. Rasmussen’s office, the first grader began continuously kicking the wall or the door to her office.  He too, may have been ‘yelling and screaming.’ 

Ms. Rasmussen exited her office and confronted the boy.  With a raised voice, or yelling (depending on the individual witnesses’ description), she told him to stop kicking the door. 

She physically lifted him from the chair, moved him several feet through the office and put him on the floor.  She returned to her office and a few minutes later returned to talk with the boy. This conversation was in normal tones. After talking with the boy, he returned to his classroom.

There was no allegation that the boy was hurt in the incident.

School officials are allowed to use reasonable physical means to discipline or control children.  Of course, in doing so, they may not injure a child. 

The offense of harassment requires that an individual intentionally harass or annoy another person, by offensive physical contact. 

There is no question that there was physical contact in this incident. However, there is no evidence that it was done with any intent other than to discipline or control the behavior of the child that was acting out.  In other words, there is no evidence that it was done without lawful authority, and with the intent to harass or annoy another person.

Ms. Rasmussen is well-known in this community.  To avoid even the appearance of a conflict or some bias toward her, this investigation was referred to another District Attorney for review.  That District Attorney declined to file on this case for the reasons stated above.

Children in our schools have the right to be safe from strangers, other students, and from school personnel.  Whether Ms. Rasmussen’s handling of this incident was the best way to do so, is not before me.  The issue for my office to review is whether the conduct was criminal.  It did not rise to that level. "

Vitolins told NewsChannel 21 the outside review was done by Yamhill County DA Brad Berry, "one of the most experienced DAs in the state," but added that "the final decision was mine" in the Rasmussen matter. 

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