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Charges against Morris Area High School principal dismissed

MORRIS – On Tuesday, criminal sexual conduct charges filed against Morris Area High School Principal Craig Peterson were dismissed.

Stevens County Attorney Aaron Jordan filed paperwork to drop the charges after new evidence collected within the last month made it clear there is no longer sufficient evidence to proceed with the case.

Peterson was charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree and two counts of criminal sexual conduct in the third degree in December. A woman accused him of having non-consensual sex with her at his home.

After reviewing the facts and consulting with outside counsel, Jordan said he and Grant County Attorney Justin Anderson, lead attorney on the case, agreed that “we will not be able to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt and therefore we have a moral and ethical obligation to dismiss the case.”

“As anybody in my position would say after having to make a decision like this, I obviously wish that I knew in December what I know now,” Jordan said in a press release. “I believe that key pieces of evidence that came to light just recently would not have been available at the time of charging no matter what investigation had been done at the outset of this case. At that time this appeared to be a solid case. It often is the case that more evidence comes in after a case is charged. Sometimes, as happened here, that evidence doesn’t support prosecution.”

Jordan praised the work of the Morris Police Department and Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

“Law enforcement did what in my experience they always do and seldom get credit for – they worked as hard to find evidence that exonerates as they would to find evidence that would lead to conviction.”

In a statement provided through his attorney, Robert Dalager, Peterson thanked members of the community for their support since he was charged in December 2013.

“It is my hope that my ordeal ultimately becomes what we in education call a ‘teachable moment,’" Peterson continued. “As an educator who this community placed in a position of trust over its children, I hope the dismissal of these charges reaffirms that trust in me as an educator and a school principal. For some of you, I will need to work to rebuild this trust. I am committed to doing so. …

“It goes without saying that this has been a trying and difficult time for me. This has been the most difficult six months of my life and I am humbled. The support and belief in me that I saw from so many colleagues, teachers, staff, parents, students and community members was a harbor for me in this storm. Thank you for your kind words of encouragement throughout this process.

“I want to move forward in my life and get back to working for this great community.”

Jordan noted that he is concerned that the decision to dismiss the case may have a chilling effect in the community on reports from other sexual assault victims. Jordan said there have been a “fair number” of reported sexual assaults in the last year. Peterson’s is the only charged case that did not result in a conviction, Jordan said.