- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 18, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The sheriff in western North Dakota’s Stark County has denied allegations that law officers bullied a confession out of a former Dickinson Trinity High School principal once blamed for setting fire to the school.

The attorney for Sheriff Terry Oestreich filed a response Monday to a federal lawsuit by former principal Thomas Sander, who is suing law enforcement and the city of Dickinson for unspecified damages.

Sander maintains he was pressured into making a “coerced and false confession” after he was denied food, water, sleep and a bathroom following his arrest in the March 2014 fire. He also claims police worked for months to prosecute him even though evidence showed that someone else started the fire. His attorneys said police ignored a credible anonymous letter from a student who confessed to the fire and proclaimed Sander’s innocence.

The fire shut down the school. Classes resumed last August after cleanup and repairs that cost about $20 million, which was covered by insurance.

Sander was charged with arson and endangerment by fire, and fired from his job at the private Roman Catholic school. Southwest District Judge William Herauf dismissed the charges in July 2014 after ruling that Sander’s statements to police were improperly obtained because he was not read his rights before part of the interrogation and because some of his statements were coerced.

Sander sued this past June. Other defendants in the lawsuit filed their response last month and made similar arguments as Oestreich. The sheriff, who was a city police detective at the time of the fire, rejected Sander’s contention that he was coerced into confessing.

“Plaintiff has not and cannot show he has suffered any constitutional violation,” Oestreich’s attorney, Michael Waller, said in court documents.

Waller also said in his response that Sander “remains a suspect in the investigation.” Herauf dismissed the case against Sander without prejudice, meaning authorities could refile charges against him.

Sander’s attorney, Ryan Shaffer, did not immediately respond to a request from The Associated Press on Tuesday for comment on Oestreich’s filing.

A pretrial conference in Sander’s lawsuit is scheduled for Sept. 14.

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