By Brandi Makuski
Three students from UW-Stevens Point made a mandatory appearance in Stevens Point Municipal Court on Thursday to face a single charge each of damage to property.
Taylor R. Jahr, 20, and 19-year-old women Caitlin R. Falk and Rachel L. Halbach, all of Stevens Point, were accused of participating in a property crime that resulted in more than $300 in damages to a homeowner’s fence.
The three pleaded no contest before Municipal Court Judge Michael McKenna on Dec. 13.
According to Stevens Point Assistant Police Chief Mike Rottier, a 10-second video of the incident was posted on the “uwspbarstool” Instagram page that appears to show Halbach addressing the camera on Falk’s cell phone, then Jahr running shoulder-first into a five-foot fence surrounding the yard of Diane Ramsey-Lalk, knocking one section over.
“It’s my understanding this is not the first time something like this has happened to that fence,” Rottier said.
Ramsey-Lalk, who lives on the northwest corner of Briggs and Phillips streets with her husband Fred, said she’s lived in the home for more than 20 years and estimated the fence has been damaged in some way at least a dozen times, often during UWSP Homecoming weekend, but said she’s been hesitant to step forward in the past.
“A lot of times there’s been no evidence, no proof that someone did something,” Ramsey-Lalk said Thursday.
Over the years Ramsey-Lalk said she’s received assistance from the Old Main Neighborhood Association, a loose network of neighborhood residents, UWSP students and administration, and city officials, to help repair damages and collect trash left on her lawn and around the neighborhood the morning after Homecoming.
This year, Ramsey-Lalk’s fence was damaged on Sept. 30, two weeks before UWSP Homecoming.
Ramsey-Lalk said she and her husband were awakened at 12:30 in the morning to the sound of a “loud snap and a crash”, and which point, she said, her heart sank with a feeling of “overwhelming of fear, helplessness, and frustration. [I thought], ‘not again’.”
Ramsey-Lalk’s husband made temporary repairs to the fence, she said, and the couple moved on with their lives until about a month later, when her granddaughter came across the video on social media.
“With the video evidence, my horror arose again that someone could so blatantly attack my property and had the audacity to post my loss and pain on Instagram for the world to see,” Ramsey-Lalk wrote in her victim impact statement to McKenna.
Ramsey-Lalk said she was eventually glad the video came to light because it meant she finally possessed evidence to present to local law enforcement, as well as UWSP.
Ramsey-Lalk reached out to her neighbor, 3rd District Councilwoman Cindy Nebel, for help. In turn, Nebel said she contacted the university in an attempt to identify the students.
“We have a good relationship with a lot of the students who live in the neighborhood,” Nebel said. “And that’s part of the reason we started OMNA. But every once in a while there are students who maybe have a few drinks and they’re either walking home from the bars, or to or from a party in the neighborhood; that’s when the problems start, it’s usually the kids walking through the neighborhood who don’t live here.”
Nebel accompanied Ramsey-Lalk to court on Thursday. In her victim impact statement, Ramsey-Lalk asked for a letter of apology, and for the students to help rebuild the damaged section of fence in the spring.
McKenna agreed, sentencing each to a bond forfeiture of $187 plus payment of $103.34: one-third the cost to repair the fence. The students will also be responsible for repainting the fence in the spring, he said.
“Knowing these defendants are students, and we’re here in civil court, not criminal court, so it hopefully will serve as a significant reminder to them to modify their behavior and respect the rights of other citizens,” McKenna said.
Nebel said she worked with UWSP to ensure the students received some kind of reprimand through the school. The college is requiring the students to follow McKenna’s ruling and must complete 10 hours of community service, Nebel said.
A request for comment from Brittany Hook, associate dean of students at UWSP, was not returned on Friday.
Following the hearing, the students met with Ramsey-Lalk and Nebel in the hallway. Jahr hugged Ramsey-Lalk and the three students apologized, promising to keep in touch until spring.
When asked why the students posted the video to social media, Jahr shrugged and said, “I don’t know; it wasn’t me.”
“In the spirit of forgiveness and fairness, I bear the students no ill will and just hope we can all move on as good neighbors,” Ramsey-Lalk said.