Alleged hazing results in no charges against students
Concerned parties want community to heal
September 19, 2014
Craig — In late June, news about alleged hazing incidents involving the Moffat County High School football team shook the Craig community, resulting in the removal of football coaches, suspension of upperclassmen and a police investigation.
Events that took place at a football camp in Evanston, Wyoming, from June 18 to 20 led to allegations, questions and confusion among community members, school district employees, students and football coaching staff.
On Wednesday, the Craig Daily Press spoke with Uinta County Attorney Dean Stout (Evanston is located in Uinta County) who answered questions about the Evanston Police Department investigation that has been underway since mid-August.
Ultimately, Stout concluded he will not file charges against the accused upperclassmen, and he said nothing beyond rough horseplay and bullying took place. Additionally, he determined no sexual assault took place — an accusation made by one of the freshmen.
"It looked like there was a culture of bullying that had developed a little bit in the (Moffat County) sports programs," Stout said, noting that there was a bit of hazing and bullying that may have gone too far and might have constituted a misdemeanor charge for three of the upperclassmen.
But, instead of filing charges, Stout is working with Moffat County law officials to assign community service to those students.
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"Craig, Colorado, has a diversion program. It siphons kids out of the court system," Stout said.
Prior to the police investigation, Moffat County School District officials concluded their investigation into the alleged hazing that resulted in five football coaches being asked to resign — one of which was never actually contacted by the district.
"I was never brought in for questions," assistant football coach Derek Duran said. "I was never told I was asked to resign. It's just unfortunate that I never personally heard anything from the school district. I still have a set of keys for crying out loud."
The Daily Press called Moffat County School District Superintendent Brent Curtice for comment, but he was out of town at a superintendents conference.
"It's just really unfortunate that the school district had to lose a few great coaches," Duran said. He said he believes the school district did not do due diligence in its investigation.
Evanston police officials interviewed students, school staff, coaches and parents of both the upperclassmen accused of hazing and the freshmen who claimed abuse.
It was alleged that upperclassmen threw water balloons filled with urine at the freshmen while at football camp.
"The conclusion that was drawn was that it was likely not urine," Stout said. "We didn't think it was urine. We think somebody may have yelled something like that. It all seemed to stem from a lot of talk."
As far as the coaching staff, the police felt that no legal boundaries were crossed.
"Nothing came before us that the law was violated by the coaching staff," Stout said.
Allegations of freshmen being hit with pillows containing hard materials also surfaced in June after the football team returned from Wyoming.
"We found nothing with that," Stout said. "We could not find anything that was in the pillow except the pillow. I'm not charging battery when someone gets into a pillow fight."
For one of the assistant coaches who slept in the room with the students while at camp, the county attorney’s conclusions came as a relief.
"They had a pillow fight. I could see the kids running around laughing,” Shane Hadley said. “There was no one crying or screaming. After four or five minutes I said, 'OK kids, it's time to settle down and go to bed.' And that was it.
"I'm just glad to finally have the ability to tell someone,” Hadley said. “No one knew our side. We were told by a lawyer that was helping us not to say anything."
For more than two months, it was unclear what kind of punishment the accused upperclassmen received from the school district, but the Daily Press obtained the suspension papers for one of the upperclassmen, showing that he was suspended from school for three days for behavior that "violates the MCSD school board approved Code of Conduct" for "behavior that is detrimental to the welfare or safety of other students."
Hadley said that although he slept in the room with the football players while at camp, he wasn't with them every second of the day, and if severe roughhousing took place, he never witnessed it.
"I was trusted to be in that room as much as I possibly could," he said. "But there were times when I was in meetings or in the shower, and there's always a chance that you don't have your eyes on them every second. It's possible that there were a few things with roughhousing that happened when I wasn't looking."
One of the parents of the freshmen said that she's glad the upperclassmen aren't being charged with a crime, and she believes community service will suffice.
"We don't want something to be on these kids' records for the rest of their lives," said Kim White, who has since moved to Green River, Wyoming, with her five kids. "It's nice to see that these kids are going to have some kind of consequence, but nothing that will label them and destroy them."
She said it was important for her to pull her children out of the Moffat County schools and start over in her hometown of Green River where her freshman son is excelling in the local football program.
"I want to say thank you to the community that did support these (freshmen)," White said.
She praised the way the school district handled the allegations, including Kelly McCormick, the new principal at Moffat County High School.
"I was very impressed with Kelly McCormick and his handling of this. He jumped on it right away," she said.
Yet, not everyone feels the same way, including school board member Tony St. John.
"I was terribly disappointed in the way we handled the situation and that we did not wait for the police report," St. John said. "(The coaches) shouldn't have been let go until we got everything in. I think we acted very hastily."
St. John said he wants the community to move on and that he's impressed with the new coaching staff.
"We can't go back. We have to go forward now, and we have to do the best we can with all the new coaching staff," he said.
Duran and Hadley also said they support the new coaches and the football players.
"I'm a fan of this new coach that was brought into a tough situation, and he's doing a really good job," Hadley said of new head coach Keith Gille.
Contact Noelle Leavitt Riley at 970-875-1790 or firstname.lastname@example.org.