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Victims sue Bemidji Area Schools over former assistant principal serving time for child porn

BEMIDJI, Minn — The families of two victims who were preyed on by former Bemidji Middle School Principal Brandon Bjerknes are suing the school district.

The complaint in the lawsuit, which is more than 30 pages long, was signed Dec. 19, 2019, and asks for a judgment of no less than $75,000. Bjerknes, 37, preyed on students in the school district using a fake social media persona, known as Brett Larson, until he was arrested in March 2017.

"Bjerknes used personal information that he obtained by virtue of his assistant principal position and elementary school teaching position to lure victims, learn their interests, gain their trust, capitalize on their vulnerabilities and sexually exploit minors," the complaint said.

Among other offenses, the complaint said Bjerknes "pressured and dared children," to send him sexual photos of themselves and that he also dared minors to watch "sexually explicit content" of him. There were "at least" 55 victims according to the complaint, and the communication between Bjerknes and the victims totaled more than 15,000 pages.

Bjerknes was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison for producing child pornography and coercing minors into sexual conduct on Feb. 7, 2018.

The complaint does not name either the students or their parents. However, the complaint does say that both girls were students of Bemidji Middle School and that they are now students at Bemidji High School.

Superintendent Tim Lutz, who was not employed with Bemidji Area Schools at the time Bjerknes was arrested, said the district has received notification of the lawsuit and that school administrators have been in touch with their legal representation. He said he could not comment further on the situation at this time. The attorney representing the district could not be immediately reached for comment.

The lawsuit regarding the Bjerknes victims is not the first time Bemidji Area Schools has been sued for the sexual impropriety of a staff member. In 2013, several parties sued the district in the case of John Wangberg, a former teacher who allegedly sexually abused students several years earlier. The complaint in the recent lawsuit says that the district failed "to implement appropriate training procedures following the Wangberg incident."

"These failures allowed Bjerknes to exploit minors at Bemidji Middle School for more than three years and created a serious risk of sex discrimination and assault, " the complaint said, in part.