Last October, a black, mentally impaired high school football player at Dietrich High School in Idaho was allegedly beaten and raped by three of his white teammates in the locker room after practice.
According to police reports, John R.K. Howard, 18, Tanner Ward, 17, and a third, unnamed player lulled the boy into a false sense of security by pretending that they wanted to hug him. When the boy opened his arms for the hug, one of his teammates allegedly wrestled him to the ground and held him down while Ward “physically forced a coat hanger into the Plaintiff’s rectum.” Howard then proceeded to repeatedly kick the hanger into the boy.
Immediately following the attack, the Idaho general attorney’s office launched an investigation and both Howard and Ward were expelled from Dietrich High.
When the investigation was first launched, Dietrich Superintendent Ben Hardcastle explained that he could not comment on the specifics of the case, but seemed to suggest that it was unlikely that the team’s coaches were aware of what had happened.
“There’s an expectation that coaches will supervise students in locker rooms,” Hardcastle told local news blog Magic Valley. “But deciding what type of supervision is needed is tricky. Coaches typically come and go but don’t stand guard while students are showering and changing.”
When the victim took to the stand last month, however, he explained that his attackers had spent practice taunting him with jokes that culminated in a “power wedgie” so violent that it ripped his underwear. Their behavior, he explained, was part of a much longer history of sometimes racially charged harassment that the team’s coaches knew about.
“I screamed,” he said, recounting his attack. “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.”
When I reached out to Dietrich High a school representative informed me that currently, the school would not be commenting about the situation or any changes it was making internally as long as the case was in litigation. Both Howard and Ward’s attorneys declined to comment.
The victim’s family is now suing Dietrich High School, claiming that in the months leading up to his alleged rape, other teammates openly called him racist names like “Kool-Aid,” “watermelon,” “chicken eater,” and nigger. In addition to verbal abuse, the boy was allegedly subjected to frequent physical harassment that included humping and the simulation of anal sex.
Along with the three attackers, the family’s suit also specifically names 11 of the school’s administrators who allegedly knew about the harassment the boy experienced but did nothing to address it. The school’s indifference, the suit claims, has everything to do with the fact that Howard came from a prominent family in the Dietrich community, which has a population of only 334 people and is majority white. The boy, one of the town’s few black people, was adopted as a baby by white parents.
“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 family’s suit 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. 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.”
According to The Washington Post, Howard has left Dietrich to finish up high school in Texas before he heads in for his June 10 hearing. Ward’s hearing is set to start on September 26.