A high school teacher is accused of screaming at a student, then pulling her up from the floor by her ankles after she'd fallen to the ground.
Eric Kauffmann, a physical education teacher at New Ulm High School, was charged in Brown County District Court last week with three counts: Malicious punishment of a child (a gross misdemeanor), fifth-degree assault, and disorderly conduct (both misdemeanors).
The criminal charges stem from an Oct. 14 incident, when three students told the school resource officer they saw a teacher "putting his hands on a student." That teacher, according to the charges, was Kauffmann, who prosecutors say yelled at and grabbed a female student who was resting in the weight room — a confrontation that left her crying and "visibly shaken."
The charges cite accounts from student witnesses and the victim, as well as security camera footage from inside the weight room.
Kauffmann's attorney Adam Garber told Bring Me The News the teacher "denies the allegations that have been brought against him and looks forward to clearing his name."
Kauffmann is on paid administrative leave pending an investigation, New Ulm Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Bertrang told Bring Me The News.
"We are aware of the criminal complaints against him and that is a separate process than our school investigation," Bertrang continued. "As our investigation is ongoing, we have no additional information we can share."
The New Ulm Police Department, when asked what information it could share regarding the incident outlined in the charges, told Bring Me The News it "currently has no public data pertaining to that request."
The criminal complaint against Kauffmann was filed Nov. 4. His first court appearance is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 23.
Bring Me The News has reached out to Kauffmann's attorney for a comment.
Here's what the charges allege happened:
The school resource officer got word of a teacher "putting his hands on a student." He and the school's principal spoke with three students who were in the class. The student witnesses said they entered the weight room after stretching and saw Kauffmann approach another student who was on a weight bench, doing an exercise incorrectly.
The students said they heard Kauffmann say something along the lines of, "Don't piss me off today." He then went over to the girl and grabbed her arms to change her technique.
After that, they watched Kauffmann turn around and confront a separate female student who was resting on a weight bench. He approached, yelling and making screaming noises, the students said, and as he got close the student fell off of the weight bench. At that point Kauffmann grabbed her by the ankles and "lifted her up by the legs off the floor."
After being pulled by the ankles, she got up and went to friends nearby. The student witnesses described the whole thing as "awkward" and said the victim was crying and visibly upset.
The school resource officer spoke to the student, who corroborated the account of Kauffmann's comment and interactions with the other student lifting weights incorrectly. The student said she "kept pulling away from" Kauffmann as he approached, causing her to fall off the weight bench. She was not injured. As she retreated to her friends, she said one told her, "Watch out," and she realized Kauffmann was following her.
Security footage provides another view of the incident. Kauffmann can be seen getting in the victim's face, and appears to be yelling. As this happens, the student is "cowering and clearly uncomfortable about the situation." The video shows her fall off, shows Kauffmann grab her by the ankles, and shows Kauffmann follow her until she reaches her group of friends.
A conviction on malicious punishment of a child carries a sentence of up to a year in jail and/or up to a $3,000 fine. The other two charges carry sentences of up to 90 days in jail and/or up to a $1,000 fine.