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‘Ball slasher’ gets jail time in Superior

Tom Olsen

A Duluth man dubbed the "ball slasher" has admitted to causing more than $1,000 in damage to at least 30 exercises balls at two educational facilities in Superior.

Christopher Neil Bjerkness, 39, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Douglas County Circuit Court to two misdemeanor counts of criminal damage to property.

Authorities said Bjerkness was caught in the act on May 24 at Superior High School, where police found him with at least 20 popped exercise balls. He was later charged with destroying at least 10 exercise balls the same morning at the University of Wisconsin Superior's Marcovich Wellness Center.

Bjerkness, who has previously admitted to having a fetish for slashing exercise balls, has had a series of run-ins with the law extending back more than a decade and has served prison time for his crimes.

Judge Kelly Thimm sentenced Bjerkness to six months in the Douglas County Jail and ordered him to pay $910.80 to Superior HIgh School and $353.36 to UWS, according to court records.

A felony burglary charge, a misdemeanor count of resisting or obstructing an officer and a citation for being in a building during closed hours were dismissed by the Douglas County District Attorney's Office.

According to court documents:

Police responded to a burglary-in-progress call at Superior High School about 3 a.m. May 24 and found more than 20 damaged exercise balls in the deep end of a swimming pool, with two more missing. The balls were valued at nearly $40 apiece.

Bjerkness told officers that he saw an open door on the high school's south side while he was biking from Duluth to Superior, and entered the high school to warm up. He initially said he didn't touch or rummage through any items before admitting that he popped the exercise balls with a car key.

On June 6, while Bjerkness remained jailed, the UWS Department of Public Safety took a report of at least 10 exercise balls found to be slashed in the dance studio at the campus wellness center.

Aware of Bjerkness' arrest, officers checked video from the morning May 24 and discovered someone had been inside the facility just before 2 a.m. The suspect appeared to match Bjerkness' description from his arrest at the high school.

Confronted by police at the jail, Bjerkness stated: "I popped the balls." He said he discovered an open door from the outdoor track and went upstairs to a room where he found exercise balls and tumbling mats. After popping the balls, which were estimated to be worth $45 apiece, he said he proceeded to the high school.

Bjerkness was convicted in 2005 of slashing exercise balls at the University of Minnesota Duluth Sports and Health Center; in 2009 for slashing exercise balls at the St. Mary's Duluth Clinic West building; and in 2011 for breaking into the Chester Creek Academy fitness center where several exercise balls were stored.

He served a 23-month prison sentence after violating the terms of his probation in 2013. He had successfully completed his prison term and supervised release by the time of his most recent arrest.

Bjerkness still faces a gross misdemeanor fourth-degree burglary charge in State District Court in Duluth. Police said he illegally entered the Essentia Health-Polinsky Medical Rehabilitation Center, 530 E. Second St., just after midnight on May 23 and caused approximately $200 in damage to exercise balls.

Maria Lockwood of the Superior Telegram contributed to this report.