Cloquet bus driver chargedA 73-year-old Cloquet school bus driver who was fired after being accused of grabbing the back of a first-grader’s neck and shaking him was charged Friday with misdemeanor use of force.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
A 73-year-old Cloquet school bus driver who was fired after being accused of grabbing the back of a first-grader’s neck and shaking him was charged Friday with misdemeanor use of force.
Raymond Gordon Thomsen of Cloquet was charged in Carlton County Court with disorderly, offensive or abusive conduct: using “more than reasonable force to restrain students on his bus, arousing alarm, anger or resentment in them.”
The charges were filed electronically, and Thomsen’s first court appearance is scheduled in June.
According to the criminal complaint against Thomsen, the investigation began after a concerned parent called the Cloquet Police Department about 3:49 p.m. on April 25, saying her daughter had called and told her the bus driver had been physical with a child on the bus.
The girl who had called her mother told a police officer that when she boarded the bus at Cloquet Middle School, she saw the first-grade boy crying at the front of the bus. She said she saw Thomsen, the bus driver, stand over the boy, grab the back of his neck and shake him, the complaint said.
When the girl confronted Thomsen, he said it was none of her business and told her to take her seat, the complaint said.
A review of surveillance video from the bus confirmed the girl’s story, showing Thomsen grab the first-grade boy by the back of his neck or head and tell him to “knock it off” two or three times in a two-minute period, according to the complaint. The girl confronted him, asking, “Why would you do that?”
According to the complaint, the bus driver told officers that he grabbed and shook the boy and said it was “nothing,” that it was simpler than writing a report on the boy as required by policy. When asked if he felt his actions were justified, Thomsen allegedly told police, “Probably not.”
The complaint said the bus driver admitted to other actions seen on the surveillance video, including intentionally stepping on children’s toes if their feet were in the aisle and slapping children’s hands if they held on to the seat in front of them, which he explained was a game.
The Cloquet Transit Company fired the bus driver, police said in a press release issued April 26.
Cloquet Transit officials declined to comment on the incident, noting only that Cloquet Transit follows all state rules, regulations and state statutes regarding student transportation.
While state statute does allow for reasonable force “when it is necessary under the circumstances to correct or restrain a student or prevent bodily harm or death to another,” it does prohibit corporal punishment by any employee or agent of the school district.
According to state statute 121A.58: “An employee or agent of a district shall not inflict corporal punishment or cause corporal punishment to be inflicted upon a pupil to reform unacceptable conduct or as a penalty for unacceptable conduct.” Corporal punishment is defined as “(1) hitting or spanking a person with or without an object; or (2) unreasonable physical force that causes bodily harm or substantial emotional harm.”
Last week, Cloquet School Superintendent Ken Scarbrough sent an e-mail message to parents clarifying the alleged assault was not “sexual fondling or beating of a child.” Scarbrough said May 1 that he sent the message so parents would not be concerned that the incident was something even more serious.
He said he could not comment on the bus driver’s length of employment or any past complaints because the district contracts with the bus company, so bus drivers are not employees of the school district.
An arraignment in the case is set for 9 a.m. June 20 in State District Court in Carlton County. Maximum sentence for the misdemeanor charge is $1,000 fine and/or a 90-day sentence.