A week after Dietrich School District officials learned of an alleged sexual assault in a football locker room, a school district investigation concluded it was “more likely than not” that a black, mentally disabled football player was sexually assaulted with a hanger by several teammates following an Oct. 22 football practice, documents filed late last week show.
The investigation included 30 interviews with football players, coaches, and parents, according to district officials, and found “evidence of misconduct among students that (included) sexual harassment, bullying behavior, and sexual assault.”
The findings of the investigation, heavily redacted with student names blacked out, were made available in court documents filed Thursday in a civil lawsuit.
The civil lawsuit, brought by the victim of the alleged assault against the district, claims the Oct. 22 sexual assault was the culmination of months of “severe and pervasive harassment, racial discrimination, mental and physical assault and battery.” The suit seeks $10 million in damages and claims the district, school administrators and football coaches were aware of or should have been aware of the abuse.”
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Named in the suit are Dietrich School Principal Stephanie Shaw, Superintendent Ben Hardcastle, district board members Starr Olson, Brad Dotson, Benjamin Hoskisson, Kris Hubert and Perry Van Tassell, and football coaches Mike Torgersen, Bret Peterson, Rick Astle and Wayne Dill.
The defendants have denied the allegations of the civil lawsuit.
Not named in the civil suit are John R.K. Howard, 18, of Keller, Texas, and Tanner Ray Ward, 17, of Richfield. They were the football players charged as adults with felony counts of forcible sexual penetration by the use of a foreign object. Ward’s charge has since been amended to a lesser charge and his case moved to juvenile court as part of plea negotiations; a third player was charged as a juvenile.
The newly available documents outlining the school district’s investigation and findings would not typically be available to the public. But lawyers for the victim’s family submitted the documents in court to argue they should be granted access to unredacted reports, not the redacted versions they received from the school district’s lawyers.
“We were given copies of the investigation’s findings, but all the important info — who made the statements, who was there — it’s all been wiped out,” Lee Schlender, an attorney for the plaintiff, told the Times-News on Monday.
“We told the court, ‘no, no. We’re entitled to get that material because it’s evidence.’ The school district’s attorneys have the entire file in its pure form … We’re just as entitled to those as anyone.”
Schlender called the documents “critical” because they contain the record of the school district’s investigation “back when it happened in October and November.” He expects Chief U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill to rule in the next 20 to 30 days whether he’ll be granted access to the unredacted reports.
The documents show that Superintendent Ben Hardcastle and Principal Stephanie Shaw opened a Title IX investigation into the sexual-assault allegations on Oct. 23, the same day the victim’s mother reported the attack.
The investigation found that one teammate:
▪ More likely than not on Oct. 22 gave the victim a “wedgie” that ripped his underwear before practice. “This happened in front of other student athletes.”
▪ More likely than not, the victim was wearing the torn boxers after practice when the same teammate who gave him the “wedgie” picked up a black plastic hanger and abused the victim.
▪ It is possible that the teammate who inserted the hanger, when told by another player to stop, told that teammate “something to the effect, ‘shut up or I’ll do the same thing to you.’”
Tanner Ward was the player accused in the criminal complain of inserting the coat hanger into the victim. He was initially charged as an adult with forcible sexual penetration by the use of a foreign object, but his case was moved to juvenile court earlier this month as part of plea negotiations.
The investigation found that a second teammate:
▪ More likely than not “kicked the hanger multiple times, either embedding it into the rectum of (victim), or embedding it further.”
▪ More likely than not, the teammate who kicked the hanger “on other occasions … has ‘dry humped’ or simulated having anal sex with younger players.”
▪ “It is possible but not certain that, before practice on Oct. 22, (the player who kicked the hanger) pushed (the victim) into the corner of the bathroom on the Junior High School side of the locker room, after his underwear had been ripped, and simulated having sex with him.”
Howard was the player accused in the criminal complaint of kicking the hanger further into the victim. He pleaded not guilty earlier this month to a felony charge of forcible sexual penetration by the use of a foreign object.
The investigation found that a third teammate:
▪ More likely than not had his arm around and was possibly hugging (victim) when (redacted) grabbed (the victim’s) underwear.
▪ “More likely than not ... was present and turned off the lights in the bathroom when (the second player) pushed (the victim) into the corner and simulated having sex with him.”
▪ More likely than not “‘dry humped’ or simulated having sex with (the victim) in the cold storage room the football team keeps its pads, but this happened on a separate date than the other incidents.”
The player charged as a juvenile was a boy accused in a preliminary hearing of luring the victim into a hug so that Ward and Tanner could attack him.
Other documents in the new court filing include written statements and drawings from students whose names are redacted. Among them is a statement from a football player who says he used his foot to shove the victim away.
The documents say the players attacked the victim twice, both times abusing him with the hanger.
Other football players wrote they witnessed the attacks, with one writing “I felt like saying something to stop it but I’m one of those people that I get too nervous or shy to say something about it.”
On Nov. 6, Hardcastle, the superintendent, wrote in a report that he and Shaw “used disciplinary action to address misconduct.”
“We are continuing to cooperate with law enforcement in the criminal investigation,” Hardcastle wrote. “We will continue to gather information and would like to work with the (victim) family and the community to identify cultural implications and impact. As a school, we want to help identify what we can do to help (the victim) and to help see to the needs of all of our students in the wake of this.”
Along with the motion to gain access to the unredacted documents, the attorneys for the plaintiff filed an amended complaint that combines the federal lawsuit with a state lawsuit.
The amended complaint claims the victim “has suffered and continues to suffer severe emotional distress including depression, fatigue, embarrassment, humiliation and other damages.”
A timeline of the investigation
The new court documents, though heavily-redacted, show how Dietrich School District Superintendent Ben Hardcastle and Principal Stephanie Shaw investigated the allegations. They reported conducting 30 interviews “including students that were present in the locker room, play football, coaches and parents.”
They also reported that they reviewed camera footage from outside the locker room, though attorneys for the plaintiff say they’ve yet to see that footage or receive a report of what the footage shows.
Following is a partial timeline of the investigation:
Friday, Oct. 23:
▪ The victim’s mother reports that on the day prior, her son was sexually assaulted in the locker room after football practice. The mother tells administrators a Lincoln County sheriff’s detective was present when her son was interview at hospital.
▪ Hardcastle and Shaw interview five students whose names are redacted.
▪ The administrators meet with two football players and their parents and inform them the boys are suspended from school for five days and suspended from football activities.
▪ Hardcastle and Shaw ask Mike Torgerson, the head football coach, about supervision inside the locker room. Torgerson said coached “pop in and out” but are hesitant to be there when players are showering or changing “because they worry about being accused of impropriety.” The administrators ask the coaches to raise their presence in the locker room.
Monday, Oct. 26:
▪ Hardcastle and Shaw interview at least four more students and attempt to contact Lincoln County Sheriff Kevin Ellis.
▪ The administrators tell Torgerson to “watch out for the kids’ emotional wellbeing given the nature of the investigation, to not disclose any details if asked about the investigation,” and to refer questions to Hardcastle.
▪ Hardcastle explains to Tanner Ward’s parents, Sid and Kristen, the nature of the allegations and that the matter will likely lead to an expulsion hearing.
▪ Victim’s parents contact the school administrators about “possible demeaning comments that have been made at practices.” The mother says she hasn’t reported these comments before because “she didn’t want to be that kind of mom.”
Tuesday, Oct. 27:
▪ Hardcastle and Shaw interview six more people whose names are redacted.
Wednesday, Oct. 28:
▪ Four more interviews with people whose names are redacted.
▪ Phone interview with a substitute teacher in one of the victim’s classes.
▪ Sheriff confirms they’ve been aware of incident since Oct. 23 and a deputy is working on it.
▪ Followup interview with Torgerson, who informs the administrators that the athletic director, Traci Perron, has been in contact with Tanner Ward’s family. Shaw asks Perron not to contact any families involved in the investigation.
▪ Lincoln County Sheriff’s Sgt. Scott Denning goes to school and tells administrators there is a criminal investigation.
Friday, Oct. 30:
▪ Hardcastle writes report concluding that it's "more likely than not" that the sexual assault occured.
Tuesday, Nov. 3:
▪ School trustees vote to expel two students.