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HPD recommends felony charges for school vandals

The Hudson Police Department officials were scheduled to meet with St. Croix County District Attorney Eric Johnson Wednesday morning to present the results of their two-week investigation into the involvement of approximately 40 Hudson High School students in the vandalism of five schools, including Hudson, on June 3.

According to lead investigator Detective Jeff Knopps, the department is recommending that 13 of the students be charged with felonies and the remaining 23 with related misdemeanors.

Knopps said they had spoken with most of the suspects, some through their attorneys. He added that investigation into who was involved in the planning of the vandalism and who was actually involved in doing it is complete. However, they have identified as an adult the owner of the dark pickup truck in which the suspects drove onto campus, and will follow up with that person to determine if they had any prior knowledge or any involvement in the crimes.

The next step is up to DA Johnson.

In an interview Monday, Johnson said his office will review the investigation thoroughly before making any decision on what, if any, charges will be brought in the case. Johnson said any charges will depend on the level of involvement of each of the suspects identified -- whether they were actually involved in the vandalism, if they participated in the planning or only had knowledge of the plan.

Johnson said one of the options that could be considered is an "informal diversion program" aimed at the youthful offender with no prior criminal record. If the offender fulfills a variety of conditions, either no charges are filed or the charges are dismissed after the conditions have been met. Those conditions can include restitution, community service and appropriate apologies, according to Johnson.

"The goal is to review and respond to the facts, try to be fair and do the right thing, the same as in any case that comes through this office," said Johnson.

But Johnson only speaks for St. Croix County. The schools vandalized included Eau Claire North and Memorial in Eau Claire County and Menomonie High School in Dunn County. Johnson said he had been in contact with the district attorneys there and is under the impression that "they would be handling any prosecutions themselves," separate from any action his office takes.

The final cost of the vandalism has not been determined, but estimates run from $10,000 to $100,000, depending on if the damaged running track at New Richmond High School has to be resurfaced.

HPD Chief Andrew Smith said his department has also used up a considerable amount of overtime on the investigation. Knopps alone said he has worked 125 hours on the case over the last two weeks. Smith said he would like that cost to be part of any restitution considered in the case.

Johnson said he did not know when the next steps in the case would be taken. The names of the suspects, all believed to be 17 or older, had not been released as of press time Tuesday.

School press conference

Last Friday, Hudson School District Superintendent Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten and HHS Principal Ed Lucas both read statements to a small group of reporters at a press conference at the school. Neither took questions, citing the ongoing police investigation and student privacy guidelines. However, both said that they will be looking for ways to reach out to the schools that were targeted to do whatever is necessary to make amends for the actions of the vandals.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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