When a teammate held out his arms after football practice in their high school locker-room, the boy thought he was about to get a hug.
Instead, he got viciously raped, authorities say.
As the teammate restrained the boy, another football player allegedly thrust a coat hanger into the boy’s rectum. Then a third teammate kicked the coat hanger several times, according to a criminal complaint.
The Oct. 23, 2015, incident has rocked the tiny town of Dietrich. This spring, after several months of investigation, the state Attorney General’s office filed sexual assault charges against all three alleged attackers. Two of the teenagers are being charged as adults and could face life in prison, under Idaho law.
Earlier this month, the case took an even darker turn when the boy’s family filed a $10 million lawsuit against Dietrich High School.
Suit alleges months of abuse
According to the lawsuit, the alleged rape wasn’t a one-off but rather the culmination of months of racist abuse by white students against the boy, who is black.
The boy “was taunted and called racist names by other members of the team which names included ‘Kool-Aid’ ‘chicken eater’ ‘watermelon’ and [the N-word],” the suit alleges.
The civil complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Idaho also claims that one of the students charged with sexual assault displayed a Confederate flag and demanded the boy recite a racist song titled “Notorious KKK.”
All three of the boy’s attackers were white, the suit says.
The suit, which names the 18-year-old boy, was provided to The Washington Post by his attorney. However, The Post generally does not name victims of sexual assault.
In addition to Dietrich High School, the lawsuit also names 11 employees as defendants. It claims school administrators and coaches did nothing to stop the racial and physical abuse towards the boy, who was especially vulnerable due to “mental disorders including learning disabilities.”
‘Catcalls, taunts and racial epithets’
The suit even claims that Dietrich football coaches encouraged other players to fight the boy, allowing a much larger student to knock the boy unconscious as other students shouted “catcalls, taunts and racial epithets.”
Dietrich High School did not respond to a request for comment.
Against the alleged backdrop of widespread racial abuse at Dietrich, one individual stands out: John R.K. Howard.
Howard, 18, is one of the three students accused of sexually assaulting the boy with the coat hanger. He is charged as an adult with one count of forcible penetration by use of force or a foreign object, according to the criminal complaint.
The lawsuit paints Howard as the ringleader of the racist abuse against the boy, who was adopted at age four by white parents living in the predominantly white town of 334 people.
Mr. Howard ... brought with him from Texas a culture of racial hatred towards the Plaintiff.
Claim from the lawsuit filed against Dietrich High School
“Mr. Howard is a large and aggressive male who had been sent to live with his relatives in Idaho due to his inability to keep out of trouble in Texas,” the complaint says. “Mr. Howard is a relative of prominent individuals in the community and, at least in part due to his athletic ability and community connections, the Defendants ignored or were deliberately indifferent to the behavior of Mr. Howard which included aggression, taunting and bullying of The Plaintiff and other students in the District. With deliberate indifference, the Defendants did nothing to curb the vicious acts of Mr. Howard who brought with him from Texas a culture of racial hatred towards the Plaintiff.”
The boy, one of the few black students at Dietrich and the only African American on his football team, was subjected to frequent abuse by Howard and his fellow teammates, including “aggressive ‘humping’, jumping on him from the back and simulating anal sex,” according to the suit. His fellow football players allegedly gave him painful wedgies, stripped him of his clothes and took naked photos of him in the locker room. One student drew a picture of the boy sitting in the back of the bus on a classroom chalkboard.
Portrait of an alleged ringleader
It was Howard, however, who was allegedly behind the worst abuse.
It was Howard who allegedly forced the boy to recite the words to “Notorious KKK,” a bitterly racist and violent rap song set to the tune of Notorious B.I.G.’s “Can’t You See,” the suit alleges.
It was Howard who, with his bare fists, allegedly knocked out the boy, who was made to wear boxing gloves, as teammates and coaches formed a circle around them.
And it was Howard who allegedly kicked the coat hanger five or six times, causing the boy “rectal injuries” that required hospital treatment, the lawsuit claims.
Another player, 17-year-old wide receiver Tanner Ward, has also been charged as an adult with forcible penetration, according to local news website MagicValley.com. According to the lawsuit, Ward, “physically forced a coat hanger into the Plaintiff’s rectum” before Howard kicked it.
Facebook photos show Ward participating in cowboy competitions. A quick-footed wide receiver, he has his own web page on hudl.com devoted to highlights of his football prowess.
A lawyer representing Ward did not return requests for comment.
A third football player, age 16, has been charged as a juvenile. His name has not been released.
Last month, during a preliminary hearing in the case against Ward, the boy testified how he had been tricked with kindness moments before the cruel attack.
‘A pain I’ve never felt’
The boy said Howard and Ward started harassing him before practice on Oct. 22, giving him a “power wedgie” so violent it tore his boxers.
After practice, when the third teammate asked the boy for a hug, the boy agreed, only for the teammate to restrain him and signal for the others to attack, the boy said.
“I screamed,” he testified, according to MagicValley.com. “I was pretty upset. I felt really bad. A little bit betrayed and confused at the same time. It was terrible — a pain I’ve never felt.”
Ward’s attorney argued that the boy’s testimony conflicted with that of another witness, but Judge Mark Ingram allowed the case to continue. Ward’s trial is scheduled to begin on Sept. 26. The Lincoln County Clerk’s Office could not say Tuesday whether he had filed a plea.
Howard, who is finishing high school in Texas, has a preliminary hearing set for June 10 and has not yet entered a plea.
Dietrich school lockdown
Dietrich was locked down Wednesday afternoon after the sister of a boy at the center of a rape case entered the school without checking in as a visitor, the Twin Falls Times-News reported.
The woman was later detained at her nearby house, according to her mother, after police rushed to set up a perimeter around the school.
The incident happened the same day media broke news about a $10 million civil lawsuit against the school and several teachers and administrators, accusing them of allowing a black, mentally disabled student to be abused for months, including a rape.
The school received more than 150 phone calls — some threatening — after the lawsuit story broke Wednesday, said Shoshone Police Chief Marshall Emerson, who was assisting Lincoln County sheriff’s deputies.
The suit accuses the school of fostering a climate of abuse and racism, turning a blind eye as the boy was abused for months.
The boy’s sister entered the school about 2 p.m., according to police, and a teacher told her to check in at the office, a standard policy at Idaho schools. The woman just kept walking, and administrators called police.
The woman was later detained at her nearby home but has not been arrested. Her mother called the incident a misunderstanding, saying she had gone to the school to see a relative who works there, not to cause trouble.
For nearly an hour, police loaded students onto school buses, where they were driven to a nearby church where their parents waited to pick them up. As of 4:40 p.m., police were still busing students from the school.
Twin Falls Times-News