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UW-River Falls music professor charged with second degree assault

September 23, 2011

A UW-River Falls music professor has been charged with second degree sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl, according to a criminal complaint filed in St. Croix County District Court in Hudson.

Professor Thomas William Barnett, who is in his 10th year at UWRF, was charged after an alleged incident at the Hudson Theatre on Aug. 16.

According to the complaint, Barnett approached the girl and her 14-year-old boyfriend after their movie was finished. Authorities allege Barnett identified himself as part of the security for the movie theater, and said that he needed to speak to the girl alone.

According to the complaint, Barnett said he had video footage of the girl and her boyfriend at the theater, and that he would post it on the news and Internet unless she let him touch her.

After the alleged incident, Barnett left the theater, as the complaint states. After the girl reported the incident, the complaint states that an adult witness saw Barnett talking to the girl as they left the auditorium. Later, witnesses stated that students from UWRF who worked at the theater, identified the accused man as Barnett.

Along with being charged with sexual assault of a child, Barnett is also facing false imprisonment charges. If convicted of the sexual assault charge, Barnett could face a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison and a fine of $100,000. The false imprisonment charge could result in a maximum sentence of six years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Blake Fry, special assistant to the chancellor, stated that the university put Barnett on paid administrative leave. Fry stated that this was per the policies outlined in the University of Wisconsin-System chapters four and seven, which state the procedures and policies for dismissal. It will be the chancellor’s decision to proceed from there.

Fry also noted that the university is conducting their own investigation, which is separate from the police investigation. He also wanted to make it clear that the university does not condone this type of behavior. He wants the students and staff to know that the university has policies and procedures in place to help with sexual harassment cases. “We have a place for people to step forward, and we want them to know that we take these matters seriously,” said Fry.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can visit the Counseling Services, which is located in 211 Hagestad Hall. Their phone number is (715) 425-3884. Barnett’s original preliminary hearing at the St. Croix County Circuit Court was scheduled by Judge Eric J. Lundell for Sept. 21. However, Fry says it has been moved to Sept. 29. Barnett told the Associated Press on Sept. 5 that he was advised not to comment.

Barnett lives in Baldwin, Wis. He teaches applied trumpet, River Falls Brass, music theory and brass techniques, according to the UWRF website.

The absence of Barnett in the music department could have caused a panic, especially as he was placed on leave shortly before the start of the fall semester. However, Fry stated that the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Brad Caskey, and the music department, have made accommodations to cover the classes that Barnett was scheduled to teach.

Kirsten Tjornehoj, a professor of music, said that the department was prepared to have people step in. She added that there were two people already on staff who took over the classes the very next day. “People are willing and able to do anything for the music department,” said Tjornehoj. “We are lucky and blessed that people want to be here at UWRF.”

Tjornehoj added that even though the allegations happened close to the start of term, that the department “did not lose a beat.”

“As a staff, we are doing our jobs with empathy to students. Our job is to be available. We are celebrating the opportunity to teach and to focus on the students. We are being professional and responsible,” said Tjornehoj.

She also wanted to make it clear that it is not the department’s role to judge since Barnett has not been convicted.

Comments

Blugold on 24 Sep 2011: Some people were not meant to teach! Very well written. Good coverage!