BISMARCK — The head of North Dakota's K-12 education system could face criminal charges after she was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence this week.
The North Dakota Highway Patrol arrested Kirsten Baesler, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, around 10 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26, shortly after stopping her on Interstate 94 in Bismarck, Sgt. Wade Kadrmas told The Forum.
"I made a serious mistake last night," Baesler said in a statement released Thursday. "I let down my team at the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction. I let my family down. I let myself down. I am deeply sorry for my actions. I am going to learn from this, seek help, and focus on my well-being and health."
A criminal complaint for the stop had not been filed as of Thursday afternoon, Feb. 27. It will be up to the Burleigh County State's Attorney's Office to decide what, if any, criminal charges Baesler will face, Kadrmas said.
State's Attorney Julie Lawyer said her office received documents regarding the case on Thursday. She expects to make a decision whether to pursue criminal charges in the coming weeks.
A state trooper stopped Baesler's vehicle near exit 157 in Bismarck, the last exit before I-94 crosses over the Missouri River into Mandan, Kadrmas said. Baesler, who was headed west, was driving erratically and was cited for care required, Kadrmas said.
The trooper said he detected the odor of an alcoholic beverage when interacting with Baesler and "observed behaviors consistent with an individual under the influence of alcohol," according to Kadrmas.
Baesler refused to submit to any chemical testing that could determine her blood alcohol content, Kadrmas said. In North Dakota, refusing to submit to such testing can result in a separate criminal charge.
Kadrmas didn't know where Baesler was headed or where she was going when she was pulled over, but she was the only person in her vehicle.
She was processed at the Burleigh Morton Detention Center at 10:50 p.m. Wednesday, according to jail Sgt. Eric Howe. Her processing did not include taking a mug shot.
A $350 bond was posted for Baesler, and she was released before she was fully booked into the jail, which is why no mug shot was taken, jail Capt. Lisa Wicks said.
Baesler, a Republican, was first elected as superintendent of the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction in 2012 over Democrat Tracy Potter. She was reelected in 2016 after defeating fellow Republican Joe Chiang, a math teacher from Four Winds School District in Fort Totten, N.D.
She has announced her intention to run again for her office in 2020. No Democrat appeared on the 2016 ballot, and the state's party has yet to announce a candidate who will face her in November. Democrats will hold their state convention March 20 and 21 in Minot.
"It's deeply concerning that someone we entrust with our children's well-being would put herself and the public at risk like this," North Dakota Democratic-NPL spokesperson Alex Rohr said in a statement. "We expect our elected officials to hold themselves to a higher standard."
State superintendent is a nonpartisan office, but Baesler has been endorsed by the North Dakota GOP in the past. She will face an in-party challenge from Minot's Charles Tuttle.
Gov. Doug Burgum said in a statement Thursday his office supports Baesler's plan to seek help and focus on her health.
Baesler was also arrested while holding public office in 2015 after a domestic assault incident at her home in Mandan involving her then-fiance Todd Tschosik. A criminal charge of simple assault related to the arrest was dropped against her in March 2015.
Tschosik was investigated in the summer of 2014 by Orange County, Fla., authorities after allegedly straddling Baesler on a bed with his hands around her neck. Baesler, who was on a business trip for the state of North Dakota at the time, didn't want police involved in the case and declined to sign a statement. A misdemeanor battery charge against Tschosik was eventually dropped.
Baesler appeared Thursday for a meeting of North Dakota's Board of University and School Lands in Bismarck. She is one of five officials who sit on the board.
North Dakota State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler, who was arrested last night on suspicion of DUI, was present at the Land Board meeting today. When asked about the incident, she referred to an apologetic statement made earlier this morning. pic.twitter.com/WAe9tqQJ4a
North Dakota State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler, who was arrested last night on suspicion of DUI, was present at the Land Board meeting today. When asked about the incident, she referred to an apologetic statement made earlier this morning. pic.twitter.com/WAe9tqQJ4a— Jeremy Turley (@jeremyjturley) February 27, 2020