School principal's discipline of student results in police report and district attorney review

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Cheri RasmussenA local school principal's discipline of a student will not result in any criminal charges, Crook County District Attorney Daina Vitolins announced Wednesday.

According to Vitolins, the Prineville Police Department began an investigation of Crooked River Elementary School Principal Cheri Rasmussen on April 19 when officers responded to allegations regarding her interaction with a first-grade student.

The investigation revealed that 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 Rasmussen's office while she was in her office dealing with another unrelated discipline issue.

While sitting outside of Rasmussen's office, the first grader began continuously kicking the wall or the door to her office and may have been yelling and screaming as well. Vitolins said that Rasmussen left her office and confronted the boy, and with a raised voice, or yelling (depending on the individual witnesses' description), she told him to stop kicking the door.

Rasmussen then reportedly 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, and after talking with the boy, he returned to his classroom.

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

On April 28, the police department forwarded their report to the District Attorney's Office. Vitolins said their investigation began with a report of a criminal physical harassment, in violation of ORS 166.065, allegedly committed by Rasmussen.

Because Rasmussen is well known in this community, Vitolins referred the investigation to Yamhill District Attorney Brad Berry for review in order to avoid "even the appearance of a conflict or some bias toward her."

Vitolins said that district attorney declined to file a harassment charge because "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," Vitolins went on to explain. "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."

Vitolins added that children in local 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," she said. "The issue for my office to review is whether the conduct was criminal. It did not rise to that level."

Rasmussen was placed on paid administrative leave by the Crook County School District last month. Upon learning that the principal will face no criminal charges, the district will now complete its own internal review of the matter.

"We hope to finish the internal review in the most expedient manner possible," said District Superintendent Duane Yecha. "Cheri Rasmussen will remain on leave until the completion of the school district investigation."

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