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Chaperone: Charges were 'very hard on my family and me.'

A former University of Minnesota Duluth graduate student acquitted of sexual-assault charges Wednesday in California released a statement this morning.

Brice Hansen
Brice Hansen, a former UMD graduate student, is on trial for an alleged sexual assault of a Harbor City International School student during a research trip to California.

A former University of Minnesota Duluth graduate student acquitted of sexual-assault charges Wednesday in California released a statement this morning.

After being on trial for nearly a week, a jury found Brice Robert Hansen, 30, not guilty on two counts of assault after a 17-year-old Harbor City International student accused him of having consensual sex with her while the two were part of a school field trip earlier this year in Death Valley.

Sex with a minor, even if consensual, is considered sexual assault under the law.

"I have maintained my innocence through this entire process, and the verdict speaks for itself," Hansen said in a statement sent to the News Tribune by his Duluth lawyer, Andy Pierce. "This unfortunate situation has been very hard on my family and me, and it's time for everyone to move on. I'd like to thank all of my friends in the Duluth and Two Harbors area who have stuck by my side this whole time."

The jury deliberated Tuesday afternoon and part of Wednesday morning before reaching its verdict.

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"He's coming home to his community to resume his life," Gerard Harvey, Hansen's lawyer, said Wednesday. "An innocent man was vindicated this morning."

Neither the student who accused Hansen, or her family, could be reached for comment.

Hansen was a graduate student with UMD who had worked as a student teacher at Harbor City and was serving as a chaperone for the school during a three-week field trip to Death Valley, where students kept field notes during the trip about environmental science-related subjects, according to the Harbor City Web site.

During the trip, according to Brian Dressler, the chief investigator for the Inyo County Attorneys office, the 17-year-old student told a friend during the field trip about the alleged incident with Hansen. When the students returned to school, the accusation spread before the 17-year-old student was interviewed by Harbor City director John Haire, who contacted police, Dressler said.

Dressler said the Duluth Police Department's investigation led to the charges.

Dressler said the district attorney's main witnesses during the trial were the alleged victim, her friend and the Duluth police officer in charge of investigating the case, Ron Tinsley. He said there were no witnesses to the alleged assault and no physical evidence.

He also called the alleged victim "not very sophisticated."

"She was not really worldly," he said. "She was more of a kid. ... I've seen some cases where we have a vixen type of thing. She was a goofy teenager."

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Still, he thought his office had a good case.

"I've been doing this for a number of years, and this was not a bad case at all," he said. "The defendant testified that she was flirtatious with him that first night they were alone."

Though Hansen testified that he rejected the advances, Dressler said, "he then put himself in a position to be alone with her three more times."

Harvey, Hansen's attorney, doesn't deny that his client was alone with the Harbor City student, but said that her initial advances were rebuked "and there were no further incidents where anything happened."

"They were never alone for an extended period of time," he said.

Harvey said his defense was built primarily through discrepancies in the student's story, accusing her of telling one version of events to police, a different one to her friend and a different one to her parents.

"I think the jury felt the prosecution totally overreached," he said.

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