Federal prosecutors were briefed Thursday on allegations of rape, racism and the repeated abuse of a mentally disabled black student at Dietrich High School and said additional charges might be filed.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boise isn’t actively involved in the case now, U.S. Attorney Wendy J. Olson said, but it could bring charges depending on the results of a state investigation.
“We are aware of the incident and very aware of the charges brought through the (state) Attorney General’s Office,” Olson said Thursday. “They are very serious charges with very serious consequences.”
Olson couldn’t comment on what type of charges her office could bring if it decided to do so, but a civil lawsuit filed earlier this month accused the Dietrich School District and administrators of discriminating against the student based on race, and violating his constitutional and civil rights.
And in the small town of 335 people, some residents say the abuse goes well beyond what was endured by the victim and detailed in the civil suit.
Tim McDaniel, the victim’s father, is a Dietrich biology teacher. He was at the center of an unfounded ethics complaint in 2013 over his use of the word vagina to explain the biology behind an orgasm.
When McDaniel’s daughter, who is also black, went to the school to visit her father Wednesday and did not check in, her unannounced visit prompted a lockdown that the family believes was a result of the school being vindictive.
“I’ve lived there 21 years,” McDaniel said Thursday while driving with his wife to look for a home in a new city. “I’ve never felt like more of an outsider than I do right now.”
Tim and Shelly McDaniel are white, but many of their adopted children are black, including their son who filed the civil lawsuit seeking at least $10 million in damages.
The civil suit filed on behalf of their son, which came to light Wednesday, claims that a rape by his football teammates inside a locker room on Oct. 22 was the culmination of months of “severe and pervasive harassment, racial discrimination, mental and physical assault and battery.”
Three teens face criminal charges in the case, including two who are charged as adults: John R.K. Howard, 18, of Keller, Texas; and Tanner Ward, 17, of Richfield. They are facing felony counts of forcible penetration with a foreign object for allegedly jamming and then kicking a hanger into the teen’s rectum. The third teen, whom the victim testified lured him into a hug to facilitate the attack, is charged as a juvenile; all aspects of his case are sealed.
The civil suit claims that the district, school administrators and football coaches “were aware of or should have been aware of” the abuse that led up to the sexual assault. It also says they failed to take responsible action and were “intentionally or negligently indifferent” even though they knew the victim was a target because of his learning disabilities and skin color.
“Our position obviously is that this could have been, and should have been, anticipated,” Keith Roark, the attorney for the victim, told the Times-News on Wednesday. “All school districts are under state mandate to monitor for bullying and to take steps to educate students. There were clear signals this man was abused, bullied and taken advantage of.”
Meanwhile, the FBI was monitoring the situation at Dietrich, which received more than 150 calls related to the case between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. Wednesday and which continued to receive calls and threats Thursday, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Sgt. Scott Denning said.
The calls put the campus on a heightened sense of alert, Denning said, when the McDaniels’ daughter entered the school without checking in as a visitor. She was later detained at her home and released without being charged or cited.
Denning said that it was the school’s decision to call for the lockdown.
“With the information we were given, we support their decision to have the lockdown,” he said. “It was the right decision to make. We were concerned about the safety of the children, with an unknown individual that gained access to the school.”
The McDaniels said the school knew the “unidentified person” was their daughter — she graduated last year, her dad is a teacher and several of her siblings are students. But the family praised the way law enforcement handled the situation.
“They did an awesome job,” Tim McDaniel said Thursday. “They did what they were supposed to do. I’m proud of them.”
Shelly McDaniel also reiterated what she told the Times-News last month, praising the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office for their professionalism during the investigation involving their son.
“They rock,” she said.
School was canceled in Dietrich on Thursday for what was supposed to be the last day of classes.
Denning said the Sheriff’s Office is still investigating the events surrounding Wednesday’s lockdown. Once deputies are done, they will send what they get to the Lincoln County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which will decide whether to file any charges, Denning said.
“We’re trying to determine if there’s been a violation of Idaho state code (with) what transpired,” he said.
Meanwhile, the media attention Dietrich has received has folks on edge. One resident who declined to give her name said that small towns don’t like to be in the national spotlight.
Denning, who has kids in the school, agreed.
“The community and school wants to handle this themselves,” but outside influences are still stirring the pot, he said.
“It was a horrible, heinous tragedy,” Denning said. “Everyone is upset about it, the Sheriff’s Office, school staff, parents and kids.”
As for the accusations of racial prejudice, “there is no prejudice in Dietrich,” Sheriff’s Sgt. Andy McClure said Thursday. “What happened here (the alleged rape) is not a reflection of the community.”
But Shelly McDaniel said she felt a different reaction when she and her husband adopted their first black child.
“We adopted white kids first, and we were just another Dietrich family,” she said. “That all changed when we started to adopt black children.”
Some are lashing out at the family, accusing the McDaniels of adopting children “for the money,” said Kim Page, the mother of a Dietrich student.
“There are so many good people here, but some have turned on the McDaniels,” Page said. “I keep telling people to stop blaming the victim.
“I’m worried about their safety.”
Dietrich is “a town in crisis. People are hurting inside,” she said. “Some are taking (the rape) personally. When they are hurting, they want to make everyone else hurt.”
Page said she blames the school administration for allowing bullying to go on for years. She said the rape would not have happened had a resource officer been on site.
“Bullying is an issue in every school,” she said, but Dietrich’s school administration won’t acknowledge it. “I know people who have left town because of it.”
Page said she doesn’t want to see this get swept under the rug.
“Dietrich is like a big family,” she said. “But sometimes a big family becomes a dysfunctional family who doesn’t use manners with each other.”