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Charge against A.J. Wallace dismissed

Andrew Wallace (courtesy of NP Design & Photography)

A disorderly conduct charge against a 21-year-old New Richmond man in connection with the Somerset Elementary School lockdown Dec. 19 has been dismissed.

At a pretrial conference at the St. Croix County Government Center in Hudson on Wednesday, May 28, St. Croix County Assistant District Attorney Michael Nieskes moved to dismiss the disorderly conduct charge against Andrew J.R. Wallace without prejudice.

Wallace was arrested the afternoon of Dec. 19 in connection with an alleged verbal threat of a 9-year-old girl at Somerset Elementary School that morning.

The incident caused all Somerset schools to go into lockdown the day of Dec. 19. Police officers were stationed at each school.

Nieskes, when addressing St. Croix County Circuit Judge Eric Lundell, said the state, after review and meeting with the child’s parents, doesn’t believe the charge could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and that the state could not meet its burden of proof.

Wallace’s attorney, James T. Remington of Remington Law Offices in New Richmond, told the judge that he feels the whole incident was a matter of confusion and misinterpretation.

Melinda Taubman, Wallace’s mother, said the family harbors no ill will toward the school or anyone involved in the situation.

“We are so very proud of our son and how he handled this whole terrible nightmare,” Taubman said. “Now we move on and move past this and go forward.”

Taubman described her son’s arrest as something that never should have happened. While the family wishes to put the incident behind them, they also want Wallace’s side of the story told. While Wallace declined to comment for this article, he wrote on the Support AJ Wallace Facebook page “I would like to take this time to thank everybody for your support over these last several months. They have been quite stressful but your love and support has helped a lot my family and I greatly appreciate it!”

The family’s perspective

“The sad part of all this is that he was exactly where he should have been that day,” Taubman said of her son walking his twin siblings to their classroom.

Taubman said Wallace had arrived home the night before on Dec. 18 for Christmas and the annual party Taubman and her family has for her daycare, friends and family (scheduled for Dec. 19).

His little sister and brother were so excited to have him home from college (he attends the University of Minnesota, Crookston), that they asked if he would come along when their father brought them to school, Taubman said.

A few days prior to Wallace coming home, in a completely separate incident, his little brother, who is autistic, was bullied by another little boy at school, Taubman said.

“The bullying incident was being taken care of by the school,” Taubman said.

Taubman, who began an autism support group on Facebook called Autism Special Needs Action Group, said she was so confident the school was handling the bullying incident appropriately that she didn’t even mention it on her group page.

The morning of Dec. 19 when Wallace accompanied his stepfather and siblings to Somerset Elementary, Scott Taubman stopped briefly in the principal’s office to speak about the bullying incident while Wallace signed in and walked his siblings to their classroom, Taubman said.

She calls the fact that the bullying incident happened prior to the alleged threat incident a “weird coincidence.”

Her reason for setting the record straight about the separate bullying incident is that after Wallace’s arrest for allegedly threatening the student in the hallway, rumors floated around the community and on social media that Wallace was defending his little brother when the alleged threat was made. The girl who said Wallace threatened her and the boy who bullied his little brother are two different people. Neither were connected in any way, Taubman said.

After Wallace dropped his siblings off at their classrooms, he spoke to a teacher about playing football at Crookston, Taubman said. He then checked out of the building with his stepfather, held the door open for two families and left, she said. Throughout the months following the incident, Wallace stood firm that he never had any contact nor spoke with the girl who said Wallace threatened her. Taubman said if cameras had been in place in the elementary school hallways, they would have shown Wallace’s innocence.

“He was only in the building for 10 minutes or less,” Taubman said. “He was just walking his sister and brother in a crowded hallway full of parents, students and families. Our family is family. I take care of families (in her daycare). Family means everything to us. The truth always stays the same.”

According to the criminal complaint, no one else, including a student standing next to the girl, heard Wallace make any comment to the girl.

Taubman said they received many letters and emails from people who had been wrongly accused of crimes.

“That helped in a great way,” Taubman said. “We are so, so appreciative of all the help and support. We want to thank the people that said they changed their outlook once they heard the story.”

Taubman described the days leading up to Wallace’s May 28 court appearance as horrible, especially having to explain to Wallace’s little sister that when people spoke of the alleged threat, they were talking about her older brother.

“I hope no one ever has to be in this spot ever,” Taubman said.

The family is determined to look at the good that came from Wallace’s ordeal, like better security cameras in the hallways of the school. They urge people to keep in mind that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and that people should not be judged by looks, but by morals and character.

“We also want to thank so many people of the surrounding communities, teachers, business owners, pastors, coaches and people that didn’t even know A.J that were so quick to jump to his defense when this horrible story first came out. Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Taubman said.  

Character references

When Wallace knew he would have to wend his way through the court system, many of his coaches and mentors came to his defense, writing character reference letters for him. Those include, among others, Robby Case, the offensive line coach and run game coordinator at Crookston; Michael Fritze, head football coach at Crookston; and Jason Eckert, New Richmond High School health teacher and head football coach from 2008-2012.

Wallace is pursuing a degree in sports and recreation management at Crookston, where he plays Division II football.

According to the reference letters, Wallace volunteers by reading to and working with kids at elementary schools, coaching Little League and youth football.

“I am confident that AJ’s character will show through despite the challenges he is facing,” Eckert wrote. “This is a guy I would trust with my own kids. I firmly believe that AJ is innocent and the truth will be made known.”

Somerset School District Administrator Randy Rosburg made this statement concerning the dismissal of Wallace’s charge, and security and safety measures in the schools: “We appreciate the work of the individuals involved in the court system and support their decisions as we know they too take all matters very seriously.

“The district had a plan in place prior to this situation occurring to update cameras in our schools to include the hallways of the ES too. Those cameras have been installed in all schools. Door access has been reduced for visitors to our schools. Visitors to our schools in the a.m. and p.m. no longer walk students to or from classrooms. We have a heightened awareness of visitors to our schools. We practice lockdown drills multiple times during the school year.”

Check the Support AJ Wallace Facebook page for updates on an upcoming celebration of the charge dismissal.

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in Febraury 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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