Sexual assault survivors pour out testimony at former La Crosse show choir director sentencing

La Crosse DA hopes survivors find peace

A former La Crosse School District staff member will spend the next eight years behind bars.

La Crosse County Judge Todd Bjerke sentenced 34-year-old Dustin Bagstad on Monday afternoon to eight years in prison on four of five counts of sexual assault dating back to 2016.

Former La Crosse School District show choir director Dustin Bagstad sat quietly in a courtroom filled with family, friends and community members of the survivors whose lives he greatly affected. Two of those survivors poured out their testimony Monday, saying their lives will never be the same.

“I am scared to walk four blocks to school in case I run into him,” said one survivor.

The mother of one survivor said the damage has been done.

“This trauma has left its indelible mark,” she said.

Sexual assault survivors took to the stand to face Bagstad, who pleaded guilty to five counts of sexual assault of a child in December 2018.

“My life is like a spinning top, spinning around the same incidents that changed my life,” said another survivor.

Bagstad was originally charged with 19 counts of sexual assault, but entered a plea deal in December 2018. Some of those assault charges run all the way back to February of 2010.

One survivor told La Crosse police Bagstad would give her rides home after choir practice. The survivor noted they started a “trust building thing,” where they would take pictures of their bodies and send them to one another.

The survivor says Bagstad had sex with her 11 times between November of 2016 and July of 2017. That survivor was 15 at the time.

One survivor’s testimony said she was bullied by other choir students when she came forward.

“A majority of the ladies during the 2017-2018 show choir season hated me,” she said. “They saw me as the person who ruined their show because they were no longer able to perform a song that he composed.”

La Crosse District Attorney Tim Gruenke said this is what many survivors of sexual assault face.

“Unfortunately, a lot of victims still face that fear that if they say something happened, they won’t be believed,” Gruenke said. “I think it was good for them to hear that they were believed and valued. It did matter for them coming forward.”

Bagstad did offer an apology at his sentencing.

“I am the reason we are all in this courtroom today,” Bagstad said. “I am truly sorry for my irresponsible actions and the negative impact they have had on so many people.”

Bjerke felt the need to keep Bagstad behind bars for at least eight years to ensure the safety of the community.

“You’re over 30,” Bjerke told Bagstad in court Monday. “The victims are 15. If you can’t tell that’s inappropriate, even if you’re not a coach or a teacher, there is something wrong.”

Gruenke said he is pleased with the way Bjerke handled the sentencing.

“I think the judge got that message,” Gruenke said. “This was a bigger case and more victims involved and more people involved than your normal case.”

Bjerke withheld the sentence on count five. It includes 15 years probation. Bagstad can appeal his sentence within 20 days.

As a station policy, News 8 does not identify sexual assault survivors and that’s why their names and faces are not shown. We did use their audio in our newscasts to give them a voice at the sentence hearing.

Get your weather forecast from people who actually live in your community. We update with short, easy-to-use video forecasts you can watch on your phone every day. Download the iOS or Android app here.