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Judge drops 2 defendants from suit

A judge dismissed the Moorhead School District and the city of Moorhead as defendants in a lawsuit claiming they didn't stop a sexual assault at the Moorhead Sports Center.

A judge dismissed the Moorhead School District and the city of Moorhead as defendants in a lawsuit claiming they didn't stop a sexual assault at the Moorhead Sports Center.

Parents of a female high school student sued the district, city and James Robert Hersrud after she and Hersrud had sexual contact at the facility three years ago.

Clay County District Judge Michael Kirk dismissed both government entities from the case Thursday, leaving Hersrud as the lone defendant.

The girl and Hersrud had a sexual relationship before incidents in the Moorhead Sports Center, which is owned by the city but located adjacent to Moorhead Senior High and is used for school activities.

The judge said neither the city nor School District had a legal duty to protect the girl beyond safety measures already in place.


The parents' attorney, Randolph Stefanson of Moorhead, must decide how to resolve the case against Hersrud before asking the Minnesota Court of Appeals to review the case. State law requires the case to be resolved before the appellate court considers it.

Stefanson said he received the judge's order Tuesday and plans to consult his clients.

"I think someone else should take a look at it," he said. "I think it's a case that sets too low a standard for the School District to protect students."

Hersrud, 21, of Moorhead suffered a brain injury as a child that required him to be placed under guardianship. His attorney, Zenas Baer, said Hersrud has no assets.

The girl, whose parents' names are not included in the lawsuit, also suffers from learning disabilities and lives outside the region. "It's a sad story any way you slice it," Baer said.

The lawsuit centers on a claim by the girl's parents that the School District and city didn't take precautions to prevent Hersrud from having sexual contact with their daughter at the Moorhead Sports Center.


A mental evaluation found Hersrud incompetent to stand trial, but prosecutors pursued charges after an unsuccessful attempt to have him committed as mentally ill.


Hersrud pleaded guilty in June to third-degree sexual conduct and was sentenced to 15 years of supervised probation for having sex with a minor. Her parents filed the lawsuit the same month.

Hersrud testified at an August hearing that he had sex with the girl, then 15, in a locker room at the Moorhead Sports Center in December 2002. He was 18 at the time.

Court records say the girl was assaulted several times between December 2002 and April 2003. Some of the incidents occurred in a locker room at the Moorhead Sports Center.

The girl's parents said in the suit they warned school officials and police to keep Hersrud away from their daughter. The School District should have provided adequate supervision and security for the girl while not allowing Hersrud on school grounds, they said.

The city denied negligence in providing security, and the School District said it doesn't control operations or employees at the Moorhead Sports Center.

Moorhead school officials couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.

Moorhead City Manager Bruce Messelt called the lawsuit "unreasonable" and applauded the judge's order.

The city never accepted special responsibility to protect the girl, but it does provide reasonable security and safety for all patrons at the facility.


"You have to separate criminal responsibility from reasonable responsibility by the city and School District," Messelt said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Steven P. Wagner at (701) 241-5542

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