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School Officials Say A Student With Disabilities Raped With A Hanger Was Not Vulnerable

The administrators and coaches in the small Idaho town being sued by the family of a teenage victim in a violent assault by fellow students deny all wrongdoing in the case.

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School officials in Idaho being sued for civil rights violations after a black student with mental disabilities was allegedly raped with a coat hanger by high school football players have denied all claims of wrongdoing and insisted the victim was not vulnerable, court records show.

On October 22, 2015, the student was lured into the Dietrich High School locker room after football practice and had a coat hanger forcibly shoved up his anus and kicked repeatedly, according to the complaint. Three white teenagers have been charged in criminal court with rape charges. John R.K. Howard, 18, and Tanner Ward, 17, are being tried as adults and could face life in prison if convicted. A third student is being tried as a juvenile.

The Dietrich High School administrators and coaches, in their response filed June 9 in federal court, Superintendent Ben Hardcastle conducted a thorough investigation which resulted in the Board’s expulsion of two students, the suspension of a third student, and contact to law enforcement.

The response said the mother of the victim informed the school’s Superintendent the day after the alleged incident and he advised her to take him to the hospital and call law enforcement.

In lawsuit, the victim’s family claims that the victim was harassed and bullied for months leading up to the assault — and no adult in power did anything to stop the abuse. The defendants said that the alleged victim didn't notify any official about alleged bullying, hazing, or harassment.

The teen victim is 18 and graduated last year. BuzzFeed News is choosing not to name him. At an early age, the victim was diagnosed with mental disorders, including learning disabilities. When he entered Dietrich High School, he was placed in a special program and given an individualized education program.

Lawyers for the victim’s family told BuzzFeed News that in the weeks following the filing of the civil lawsuit the victim checked into a mental health facility.

The defendants don't deny any of the victim’s claims about his mental health, however they “assert that a disability does not necessarily indicate vulnerability or helplessness." In this case, the defendants said they were “not aware” of a vulnerability or helplessness.

The defendants also denied all claims that the adults in the community were aware of a pattern of racism and aggressive bullying by teammates against the victim leading up to the assault.

They claim that no school staff or coaches witnessed the victim being taunted and called racist names by other members of the team, such as “Kool-Aid,” “chicken eater,” “watermelon,” and “nigger,” as the complaint states.

On the contrary, the defendants claim that the victim was “well liked” by many of his teammates, had friends on the team, and was treated well by them.

However, speaking out after the news broke of the attack, Dietrich Mayor Donald Heiken suggested that after the incident there was a concerted effort to keep quiet about what happened.

“When this first happened, the community, it was hush hush. Nobody spoke about it at all,” Dietrich Mayor Donald Heiken said.

At one point leading up to the Oct. 2015 attack, the victim and Howard were allegedly pitted against each other in a boxing match at a summer camp for the football team, according to the complaint. The defendants denied knowing about any such fight and said that if a confrontation happened between Howard and the victim, it occurred without knowledge of the defendants.

The defendants have asked the judge in the civil case to dismiss the charges and requested that the victim’s family pay their legal fees.


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Michael Hayes is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Mike Hayes at mike@buzzfeed.com.

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