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Woman lodges complaints over truancy project

A woman filed a complaint with the Superior Police Department and Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction following a recent sting to encourage attendance at Superior High School.

A woman filed a complaint with the Superior Police Department and Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction following a recent sting to encourage attendance at Superior High School.

Dana Moen lodged the complaints over the Project Truancy after police paid a visit Sept. 21 to her 17-year-old son. Moen accuses Officer Brad Esler of the Superior Police Department of slapping her son, who was asleep at the time, then yanking him off the floor by his hair, spraying him with pepper spray and arresting him. The teen was hauled to jail wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and T-shirt, she said.

"The officer never explained to me that Ethan had to be awake in order to be served with the truancy citation," she wrote in the complaint.

According to Esler's report, Moen invited him into the house and told the boy several times that he needed to get up to go to school.

"She pleaded with him to go, but he refused," Esler wrote. "It was clear that (he) did not respect his mother or her wishes."

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Both accounts indicate Moen warned Esler that if he were to try to physically touch her son, he would need backup.

Esler identified himself as a police officer, then repeatedly asked the teen to get up, he wrote in his report. When the boy refused, Esler said he "gave him a light tug on the hair." At that point, the teen jumped up and clenched his fists in a fighting stance. Esler gave him a burst of pepper spray and handcuffed the boy after a brief struggle. The teen was cited for truancy and obstructing an officer.

Capt. Charles LaGesse of the Superior Police Department reviews all use of force complaints. He said tugging the hair of a suspect is a technique commonly used by officers and that when things escalated, Esler employed appropriate measures.

"I think force was necessary," LaGesse said.

The students targeted by police were chronic truants. School district officials attempted to contact parents by phone before seeking police assistance, according to Superintendent Jay Mitchell of the Superior school district.

"It's no secret you have to be in school," he said. "The expectation is you're there."

Of the 40 students police tried to reach, 23 were contacted and returned to school.

"The kids we got back -- some haven't been to school in a year," Mitchell said. Moen's was the only complaint received.

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In her letter to the DPI, the Superior woman also accuses the school district of not providing education opportunities for her son. His individualized education program was not working and a new plan was needed back in September 2006, she wrote in the letter. But the district has not contacted her to set one up, or to let her know the teen was truant.

"The school year of 07-08 has begun and I've no word from the school, not even a truancy letter," she wrote. "There's no schedule for my son, and I'm now dealing with police officers."

Mitchell said the district is committed to providing education for the teen.

"We're ready, able and willing to provide services if they come in," he said.

Moen has not yet heard from the DPI, which is investigating the complaint, but said she will be sitting down this week with district representatives to work out a schedule for her son. She is requesting an apology from the Superior Police Department and school district, a viable schedule for the teen and the truancy charge be dropped.

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