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School District deals with assault incident

By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer

A September assault incident involving members of the Pagosa Springs High School football team has led Archuleta School District Jt. 50 to enact the strictest punishment possible.

The event reportedly took place on Sept. 14, when the high school football team stayed overnight in Glenwood Springs following a game in Aspen.

The event was reported to high school Principal David Hamilton, who subsequently reported it to the Glenwood Springs Police Department as an, “incident of assault and bias motivated crimes.”

A report from the GSPD states the mother of the victim contacted Hamilton, advising him that her son had been assaulted, reportedly around 2 a.m., with the two assailants reported to be other members of the team.

The incident is described in the report, from which the names of the students involved were retracted.

“Hamilton advised his investigation led him to believe that [name redacted] and [name redacted] had stripped [name redacted] bedding and mattress from [name redacted] bed in the suite the football players were sharing and that they threw the mattress and the bedding inside the shower.

“Hamilton advised his investigation led him to believe that [name redacted] then ordered [name redacted] to get on the bed. Hamilton advised that [name redacted] was resistant and did not want to, but then was ordered by [name redacted] to get on the bed. At that time [name redacted] purportedly asked [name redacted] if he wanted his beating from the front or from behind and [name redacted] advised he would take the beating from behind. Hamilton advised that at that time [name redacted] proceeded to whip [name redacted] with a belt. Hamilton advised that, as of September 19, 2012, [name redacted] still had visible welting from having been beaten with the belt.

“In speaking further with Hamilton, Hamilton advised he was concerned because he thought that this was an incident of hazing, but also thought that [name redacted] had been targeted due to his name — stating that [name redacted] had been calling him ‘Jew Boy’ as [name redacted] was beating [name redacted] with the belt.”

The report further states that other student athletes were in the hotel room at the time of the incident.

The Pagosa Springs Police Department was contacted to aid in the investigation. A follow-up report by the GSPD officer assigned to the case states that PSPD officers were unable to document the injuries because, “[name redacted] had no visible mark or bruise remaining from the assault” as of Sept. 27.

Monday, GSPD Chief Terry Wilson said no criminal charges would be filed in the matter, stating that, because of the ages of the participants and the difficulty in investigating the incident from afar, it would be left to the school district to determine the appropriate disciplinary actions.

Further feeding into the decision to not press charges is a statement in the report that the victim’s mother, “decided that criminal prosecution in this Case wasn’t necessary.”

The report also indicates a discussion was held with one assailant’s mother.

“I contacted [name redacted] mother and discussed at length the possible outcome of this Case if the [name redacted] family was inclined to prosecute. [Name redacted] advised [name redacted] has been expelled from school, lost his spot on the football team, and has been having nightmares about being imprisoned for his actions. [Name redacted] advised she has enrolled [name redacted] with a counselor to attempt to curb any of these actions from continuing,” the report states.

“The second we heard about this, (the incident) we responded immediately by removing the students and followed up with the most restrictive disciplinary terms available,” said school district Superintendent Mark DeVoti in a Tuesday interview.

DeVoti explained that the least-restrictive terms would include verbal warnings, with the most-restrictive being a one-year expulsion.

“In further looking at the involvement levels, we determined that one had partial, initial involvement, and one had total involvement, the latter bringing the incident to fruition. Due to that, and other circumstances, the terms were modified for the lesser-involved student,” DeVoti explained in a later e-mail. “We want student accountability and appropriate consequences, and that is rarely a one size fits all.”

According to DeVoti, the incident was not the first of its kind.

“A few days after the school received a report of the incident, they received a second parent report alleging a somewhat similar, prior incident. And again, law enforcement was immediately notified,” DeVoti wrote. “Had we received the report of the first incident back in August when it apparently happened, we would have been able to address it and, hopefully, avoid the later incident from ever happening.”

But, DeVoti said he places no fault with the team’s coaches for the incidents, stating they acted reasonably in each situation. The district conducted its own, parallel investigation while law enforcement investigated the matter.

The district’s student travel policy states, “When staying overnight curfews shall be established by the coach/sponsor before the trip and a room check shall be made each night.”

Additionally, each student athlete and parent/guardian must sign a form acknowledging several rules, including one that states no students are allowed out of their rooms between lights-out and breakfast.

DeVoti said supervision is difficult in locker rooms, as well. “For obvious reasons, we can’t put a camera in the locker room, and you don’t want coaches hanging around the locker room all the time while students are changing. We have big windows between the locker room and the coaches office, and the coaches, for the most part, do locker room supervision through a general proximity and occasionally walking through, etc.”

High school Athletic Director Sean O’Donnell added that it is difficult for coaches to supervise both locker rooms and fields where students may be, especially in the case of football, where the field is located a distance from the locker room and not all student athletes are in the same place at all times.

“At some point personal responsibility has to come into play and we shouldn’t have to watch everyone like a hawk,” DeVoti wrote. “And the fact that an incident like this, when considering hundreds of students, happens on rare occasion, and not with regularity, shows that for the most part, the system and the process works. But whenever we have incidents like this, we review protocols and see where we can improve. Athletic Director Sean O’Donnell is meeting with all coaches about awareness and supervision.”

DeVoti said students and families also need to play an active role in reporting bullying and other incidents, noting that bullying is defined as an ongoing pattern, either obvious or subversive, that causes physical or mental duress.

“We need to know of these things if we are going to address them, and when we hear of them, we do address them immediately and extremely seriously,” DeVoti wrote. “In more serious cases we also look to parents to follow-through after the school makes a report to law enforcement. That doesn’t always happen, especially if parents feel that they will be causing their child further discomfort by involving others, or if their child asks them not to tell anyone else. Often they want it to just go away, and it becomes a feeling of betraying personal trust. But unless it can be addressed, it generally does not go away. Often after an initial report, others will step forward knowing a situation is out in the open. I suspect that is why we received the subsequent report in this case.”

randi@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on October 17, 2012.