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Across the Region: Basketball players allege bullying punishment too severe


Basketball players allege bullying punishment too severe

A Wisconsin judge is trying to sort through a bitter lawsuit alleging school officials came down too hard on a group of Crivitz girls basketball players accused of cyber-bullying a teammate two years ago.

The case illustrates the impact cyber-bullying can have a small community, turning families against one another. Court documents paint a harsh picture of a feud complete with allegations of jealousy over playing time, angry online gossip from parents and an attempt to recall the alleged victim’s father from the school board.

Cyber-bullying has been on the rise over the last decade as electronic devices have become more prevalent in children’s lives. Survey data from the Cyberbullying Research Center shows an average of one out of every four middle and high school students has reported being a cyber-bullying victim between 2007 and last year.

“As adults we’re role models for our kids,” said Justin Patchin, a UW-Eau Claire criminal justice professor who co-founded the Cyberbullying Research Center, which tracks cyber-bullying among adolescents nationally. “If we can’t act responsibly, how can we expect our kids to do so?”

The case in Crivitz, a village of 975 people about 50 miles north of Green Bay, began in February 2014. It centers on then-junior Sophia Dama, the daughter of assistant girls basketball coach and school board president Mike Dama.

According to court filings, Sophia Dama was changing in the high school locker room with three other juniors. One of the girls, Victoria Neuman, took cellphone videos of two of the girls, Brianna Kopp and Jenifer Kempka, sitting on the toilet. Sophia Dama later told her father that Neuman took a picture of her dressing in a stall and filmed Kempka dancing in a thong and placing her buttocks on Sophia Dama’s head.

Mike Dama complained to school officials. They ultimately suspended the three girls for the rest of the basketball season.

The girls sued that November, alleging the punishment was too severe. They also accused Mike Dama and Kam Dama, Sophia’s mother, of defaming them for remarks that included Facebook posts. And they said Sophia Dama had exaggerated the incident.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and apologies.

Jennifer Barwinski, an attorney representing the Damas and the school district, has countered the girls are using the lawsuit to harass the Damas, and disputed any defamatory remarks.

All four girls graduated in 2015. But the fight continues.

Brianna Kopp’s father, David Kopp, mounted a recall against Mike Dama in August. Mike Dama survived the December election but David Kopp said in a telephone interview he plans to run against Mike Dama himself in 2017. Meanwhile, he has taken to writing about the case in a blog titled “The Truth According to Dave.”

Oconto County Circuit Judge Michael T. Judge earlier dismissed the girls’ allegations that the district and the Damas intentionally inflicted emotional distress on them as well as defamation and conspiracy claims against the Damas this month. The rest of the lawsuit is pending.


Walker signs sex offender placement bill

Gov. Scott Walker has signed a bill that creates uniform restrictions on where violent sex offenders can live.

Municipalities currently use local ordinances to create zones where sex offenders can’t live. The bill creates statewide regulations barring violent sex offenders from living within 1,500 feet of any school, day care, youth center, church or public park.

Sex offenders who committed crimes against children can’t live next door to children. Sex offenders who committed crimes against an elderly or disabled person can’t live within 1,500 feet of a nursing home or other assisted living facility.

Local ordinances will generally remain enforceable.


Judge dismisses lawsuit against county executive

A Milwaukee County judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the county board chairman against the county executive.

Judge William Sosnay said Monday only the county board can sue unless supervisors adopt a resolution directing its chairman to act on their behalf.

Chairman Theodore Lipscomb wants legal clarification on whether County Executive Chris Abele has unilateral authority to award pay raises to his political appointees who aren’t covered by civil service rules.

Lipscomb also wants a judge to decide whether Abele is obligated to attend county board meetings when requested. Lipscomb says he’ll refile the lawsuit.



Suit alleges Clean Water Act violations from manure spills

A federal lawsuit says a northwest Iowa dairy and animal feeding operation has failed to stop manure and wastewater from spilling into a tributary of the Big Sioux River.

The lawsuit against Meadowvale Dairy and its owner, Sjerp Ysselstein, was filed Friday. Authorities seek a court order to stop the spills and an unspecified amount of fines. The complaint lists four counts of Clean Water Act violations.

Federal prosecutors say that since 2001, Iowa has cited Meadowvale a dozen times for failures to maintain adequate storage for effluent. The complaint says Meadowvale operates waste systems for two interconnected feeding operations for a total of about 10,000 head of cattle on a combined 185 acres

Neither Ysselstein nor his attorney immediately returned phone messages Tuesday from The Associated Press.



Man sues for burns suffered while working at beet plant

A Moorhead, Minnesota, man is suing Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative for injuries he suffered when he was severely burned while performing electrical work at the company’s sugar beet processing plant in Wahpeton.

Zachary White says in the federal complaint filed Friday that the company created dangerous conditions that led to the November 2014 incident. White says he was burned on up to 49 percent of his body and suffered disfiguring burns to his face, chest, arms, legs and back.

An attorney for the cooperative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Court documents show that White and a co-worker were working on wiring while on an elevated lift when a tank of scalding hot water overflowed on the two of them. The two workers say the hot liquid caused the lift to short circuit and they were forced to jump 15 feet to the concrete floor, causing additional injuries.

“By not monitoring the premises, defendant was oblivious to the unfolding crisis in the unattended boiler house,” the suit says.

The complaint seeks at least $75,000 in damages for physical and emotional pain and suffering.

The cooperative is owned by approximately 500 shareholders who grow about 115,000 acres of sugar beets in the Red River Valley.



South Dakota-based entomologist loses appeal to USDA

BROOKINGS, S.D. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has rejected an appeal by a federal scientist who said his research was repressed.

South Dakota-based entomologist Jonathan Lundgren filed an internal complaint against USDA in 2014, saying he’d been restricted from publishing and talking about his research on pesticides and pollinating insects.

USDA found the complaint without merit. Lundgren appealed, and Minnesota Public Radio reports that the appeal has been rejected.

Lundgren’s attorney, Jeff Ruch, works for the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which is suing USDA over its scientific integrity policy.

USDA says it’s committed to scientific integrity and did nothing wrong.

A separate whistleblower complaint that Lundgren filed against USDA is moving forward. That complaint is to a federal whistleblower protection board.

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