Vandalism leads Daytons to sue son's ex-classmates

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 9, 2009 - 11:06 PM

The family says it exhausted all options before filing suit against the students. They are seeking more than $50,000 each in damages from the boy's former classmates at Breck School.

The stately stucco house owned by the prominent Minneapolis family -- heirs to the Dayton's and Target store founders -- was egged over and over, and laden with toilet paper.

Human excrement was left at their doorstep, and one of their cars was vandalized with what appeared to be used tampons.

David and Vanessa Dayton and their son, Caleb, estimated that they endured 15 to 20 such incidents at their Kenwood home. One egging happened the day before the funeral for David's mother in October, and another June 2 coincided with Caleb's graduation from Blake School in Minneapolis.

In an unusual move this week, the family filed suit in Hennepin County District Court against several of Caleb's former classmates from Golden Valley's Breck School, which he attended from kindergarten through 10th grade.

The family said the "continued harassment and vandalism" has caused them "emotional distress" and cost them $4,112 to repair damage to the windows and stucco on their house in the 1700 block of Logan Av. S. Their suit asks for more than $50,000 in damages for each of them.

The case pits one of Minnesota's best-known families against former students of one of the state's most prestigious schools, some of whom already have hired big-name attorneys to defend them against allegations of pranks taken way too far.

A Minneapolis police report written after the June 2 incident said the trouble started in the fall of 2007, when Caleb transferred from Breck to Blake, both private schools. No reason was given for the transfer.

The Daytons' lawyer, Glenn Bruder, said the family had prepared a statement saying they were "distressed and hurt" by the events of the past two years. They said they "reached out" to the families of those whom they understood were involved.

"Unfortunately, despite repeated efforts to work with the young adults, their parents and the authorities, we still find we are under attack and suffer continued harassment and vandalism," the statement said.

The family said they believed their only remaining recourse was a lawsuit. "This action goes against our preference to reach a cooperative end to this behavior, but at this point we have exhausted all other options," the statement said.

Caleb Dayton suffered "nervousness, anxiety, humiliation, apprehension, indignity and sleep disturbance," the lawsuit said. Vanessa and David Dayton claim to have suffered the same. Vanessa Dayton, a physician, also claims harm to her career.

The incidents were timed to "maximize [the Daytons'] emotional distress," the lawsuit said.

Named as defendants are Tyler Lyons, Jens Lillehei, Kelsey Hughes and two others identified as John and Mary Doe.

Doug Kelley, who represents Hughes, who admits to being involved in the June 2 incident only, said the Daytons are overreacting. "It's unfortunate the Daytons have seen fit to elevate these high school pranks to litigation. In my time, it was TPing and tipping outhouses, and nobody sued," he said.

In a nine-page report regarding the June 2 incident, police detailed an investigation that included obtaining video from the Walgreen's where eggs were purchased "less than a half-hour prior to the egging," the report said.

On the video, two males and a female are seen paying $6.95 for five dozen eggs. Caleb Dayton identified the three on the recording as the defendants. Vanessa Dayton also dropped off video from their home surveillance camera, the report said, but police found it "too poor" to recover images.

In an Aug. 11 report, police said they consulted with the county attorney's office and found "insufficient evidence for property damage charges at this time."

Kelley said Hughes is willing to apologize for the egging and pay her share of cleanup costs.

"We hope that will resolve things," he said. "The Daytons created a Catch-22 here. On one hand, they wanted the kids to apologize; on the other hand, they were vigorously trying to get them prosecuted. The kids were ready to come in and apologize, but they didn't want to risk a criminal prosecution."

Mike Hatch, who represents Lillehei, read a statement from the family in which they said they were "aware there have been several pranks in the neighborhood," and that "we also know that such activities are an irritation."

The statement continued that they "hope children refrain from such activities in the future," and that "parents and children can resolve such pranks without expending the resources of our legal system."

Neither Lyons nor his lawyer returned calls.

David, 54, is the son of Douglas Dayton, who led the creation of the Target stores in 1961.

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747

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