A Tennessee high school basketball player who required surgery after three of his teammates sodomized him with a pool cue has filed a federal lawsuit claiming administrators had turned a blind eye to a culture of violent hazing male athletes.
The Ooltewah High School student, a juvenile identified as John Doe, was sodomized inside a cabin during a 2015 overnight team trip.
According to the complaint, on Dec. 22, two teammates “pinned [the victim] down face down on a bed, one lying across his back while the other held down his hips.” Another student then “used both his hands to ram a pool cue into [the victim], forcefully penetrating through two layers of his clothing and sodomizing him, while John screamed in pain. The assailants dropped the pool cue and ran out of the room."
The victim suffered internal injuries and required emergency surgery to have the tip of the cue removed from his bladder.
The three teammates involved in the incident admitted to the attack when questioned by a detective, however, the Hamilton County Board of Education wasn't fully informed of the incident until Dec. 30, the same day the Department of Children’s Services intake hotline received a call about the assault. The team, meanwhile, continued to participate in a tournament, playing four more games before the rest of their season was cancelled.
According to the complaint, Coach Andre “Tank” Montgomery had met with the team after the attack and told the players, “We’re a family, and what goes on in the family stays in the family.”
The three students involved in the attack were eventually convicted in juvenile court of aggravated assault charges, and one of them was found guilty of aggravated rape. All three are awaiting sentencing.
The lawsuit claims Hamilton County Board of Education, high school principal James Jarvis, Athletic Director Jesse Nayadley, and Montgomery "created a climate in which such misconduct was tolerated, thus encouraging continued and repeated misconduct and proximately causing injury to [the victim]."
According to the complaint, school officials knew about a culture of rampant hazing commonly referred to as the "beat in," or "Freshman rack." During the hazing rituals, upperclassmen would turn off the lights in the locker room and grab younger students and repeatedly hit them below the neck.
The lawsuit says prior to the pool cue incident, one of the attackers beat John Doe in a team study hall and called him “bitch-made” during practice. Other players on the team called the victim “faggot,” while the coaches frequently referred to the players on the team as “ladies.”
When the victim brought up the abuse to Montgomery, he allegedly told him to “man up.”
"This young man had a right to participate on the basketball team without sacrificing his physical and emotional safety to hazing traditions long known and tolerated by school officials,” said one of the victim's attorneys, Monica Beck.
Criminal charges were filed separately against Montgomery, Nayadley, and assistant basketball coach Karl Williams for failing to report the assault. Nayadley accepted a pre-trial resolution that allows charges against him to be removed from his record if he completes community service and a class on mandatory-reporting. And the charges against Williams were later dropped.
But in May, a grand jury indicted Montgomery on four counts and faces 11 months and 29 days in jail if convicted of the misdemeanor charges. He has since been reassigned to another area of the district, the Times Free-Press reported.
After the lawsuit was filed, the school board chair and superintendent issued a joint statement, saying they could not comment on federal litigation, adding that "providing a safe, secure environment for all of our students continues to be the top priority of our school system."
But Eddie Schmidt, a civil rights attorney who is also representing the student victim, told BuzzFeed News there are likely other victims.
“Violent hazing of young men was part of a culture at OHS," he said. "We ask that the families of any other student athlete who was victimized as part of this culture of hazing at Ooltewah High School to contact us. Your voices will be heard and we can put an end to this senseless violence."
The allegations against the OHS officials come as officials in Idaho grapple with a similar case in which high school football players raped a fellow teammate with a coat hanger inside a locker room.
One student allegedly involved in the Idaho attack, John R.K. Howard, is being charged as an adult and faces life in prison if convicted. He has pleaded not guilty.
The victim in the Idaho case is seeking $10 million from school officials, also claiming that adminstrators and the coaching staff failed to take action when he was abused repeatedly leading up to the coat hanger attack.
Michael Hayes is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Mike Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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