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Sexual assault charges against Morris high school principal dismissed

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Sexual assault charges against a northwest Minnesota high school principal are being dismissed.

Morris Area High School principal Craig Peterson, 36, was charged with four counts of criminal sexual assault last December, when a woman claimed he sexually assaulted her at his home after the two went out for some drinks.

But on Tuesday, Stevens County Attorney Aaron Jordan announced he filed paperwork to have those charges dismissed, after he and Grant County Attorney Justin Anderson reviewed and considered "new evidence which was provided by law enforcement and Mr. Peterson's defense counsel," and came to the same conclusion.

Jordan did not detail what the new evidence is, but said he wishes he knew in December what he knows now. He continued:

"I believe that the key pieces of evidence that came to light just recently would not have been available at the time of charging no matter what investigation had been done at the outset of this case. At that time this appeared to be a solid case. It often is the case that more evidence comes in after a case is charged. Sometimes, as happened here, that evidence doesn’t support prosecution."

Peterson provided a statement to the Morris Tribune through his attorney.

In the full statement, Peterson thanked people for maintaining their faith in him, and said the relief he and his family now feel can't be expressed with words. Added Peterson:

"It is my hope that my ordeal ultimately becomes what we in education call a 'teachable moment'. As an educator who this community placed in a position of trust over its children, I hope the dismissal of these charges reaffirms that trust in me as an educator and a school principal. For some of you, I will need to work to rebuild this trust. I am committed to doing so."

The county attorney, in his statement, noted this is the only sexual assault charge in the past year that didn't result in a conviction, and praised the Morris Police Department and Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for their work uncovering more evidence.

Peterson has been on paid administrative leave since the charges were filed.

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