Facts to know about the case:
- 3 White male students are accused of sexually assaulting disabled male classmate with a hanger.
- The victim is mentally disabled and has learning disabilities.
- The victim is Black and was adopted by a white family at age 4
- The town of Dietrich, Idaho has 334 residents and a 0.05% Black population.
- 2 of the students are charged as an adult, 1 is charged as a juvenile.
- A 10 million dollar lawsuit has been filed against Dietrich High School and the school board.
3 white male students have been charged with sexually assaulting a mentally disabled Black student at Dietrich High School in Idaho. The students are all accused of luring the victim into a “hug” that resulted in him being held down and sodomized with a hanger. John R.K. Howard age 18, Tanner Ward, 17 and another unnamed 17 year old student are alleged to have attacked the victim in the school’s locker room in late October 2015. All 4 students are members of the school’s football team.
Dietrich, Idaho is a small town of 334 residents and is predominately white. Black residents make up approximately 0.05% of the population. The victim is one of very few Black students at the local high school.
The victim, who testified recently in a preliminary hearing told the court that when one of his teammates stretched out his arms he thought he wanted a hug. Once he moved in to hug the teammate he was restrained and held to the ground where Tanner Ward then shoved a hanger up his rectum forcibly and John R.K. Howard kicked the hanger inside him further multiple times.
The brutal attack was the end result of months of torture a 10 million dollar lawsuit filed by the victim’s parents claims.
The lawsuit contends
“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,” it reads. “Mr. Howard is a relative of prominent individuals in the community and, at least in part due to his athletic ability and community connections, the Defendants ignored or were deliberately indifferent to the behavior of Mr. Howard which included aggression, taunting and bullying of The Plaintiff and other students in the District. 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.”
It goes on to tell of other incidents of harassment the victim has had to endure including “aggressive ‘humping’, jumping on him from the back and simulating anal sex.” His fellow football players allegedly gave him painful wedgies, stripped him of his clothes and took naked photos of him in the locker room. the day of the alleged sexual assault the victim says he was given a massive wedgie before practice that split his underwear. After practice things got much worse, the sexual assault led to him being hospitalized for his injuries.
“I screamed,” the victim testified. “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.” The mentally disabled victim told the court in a preliminary hearing.
One student who testified in the preliminary hearing was a witness to the sexual assault on school grounds.
The teen told the court he is a teammate of the four boys and was inside the locker room after the team’s practice Oct. 22. He testified Ward initiated the attack using a hanger, which Howard then kicked “five or six” times. The witness said he couldn’t remember if either attacker said anything but remembered them both laughing at the boy, “who looked like he was in pain.”
The student continued on to say that he and his mother reported the attack the following day. He says was interviewed within a week by School District Superintendent Ben Hardcastle and Dietrich High School Principal Stephanie Shaw.
The were a few differences in the testimony of the victim and a witness who was present. Ward’s defense attorney argued that the charges should be dropped but the judge decided to continue on with the case. “The evidence is conflicted on detail,” the judge said. “But the essential element was established by (the victim). I am going to bind it over.”
A little over a week after the attack the Dietrich School District sent a letter home to the parents of the high school. The letter read:
“With regard to student discipline and student rights it is rare that we make a statement to all parents about an allegation that does not affect the entire student body,” the letter said. “However, due to the large amount of media coverage regarding the allegations about an incident happening at the school, we feel that it is important that you be assured that we are working on proper handling of the situation. There have been allegations made of wrongdoing between students. Those allegations have been investigated with great effort by Mrs. Shaw and Mr. Hardcastle. We have worked to follow proper protocol to protect students and student information regarding involvement or any actions taken by the district. We have also pledged our full cooperation to law enforcement. As such, there will likely be police interviews with some high school students. We do not know with whom they will wish to speak, but we are working with them to try to minimize disruption to the school and ensure parent notification and involvement in the interview process. We thank you for your trust and patience. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Mr. Hardcastle or Mrs. Shaw.”
The multi million dollar civil suit names Dietrich School Principal Stephanie Shaw, Superintendent Ben Hardcastle, district board members Starr Olson, Brad Dotson, Benjamin Hoskisson, Kris Hubert and Perry Van Tassell, and football coaches Mike Torgensen, Bret Peterson, Rick Astle and Wayne Dill as defendants.
The suit also stipulates 10 individuals “whose true and correct identities are not yet known to the plaintiff,” will be added to the suit later. The suit seeks damages “of not less than $10 million,” declaration that school officials violated the plaintiff’s constitutional rights, punitive damages as decided by the court or a jury and “any and all other appropriate relief.”
The lawsuit identifies John R.K. Howard as the ringleader of the group who have been tormenting their mentally disabled teammate. Over the course of the school year there have been a slew of malicious incidents and attacks leading up to the alleged sexual assault. The suit alleges that
- John R.K. Howard forced the victim to recite the words to “Notorious KKK,” a bitterly racist and violent rap song set to the tune of Notorious B.I.G.’s “Can’t You See.”
- Earlier in the year, a bare fisted Howard knocked out the victim, who was made to wear boxing gloves, as teammates and coaches formed a circle around them in an attempt to “roughen him up.”
- Howard kicked the coat hanger five or six times, causing the victim “rectal injuries” that required hospital treatment, the lawsuit claims.
- Prior to the sexual assault the victim was subjected to name calling enduring slurs such as ‘Kool aid’ ‘Watermelon’ ‘Chicken eater’ and the ever popular ‘Nigger’.
- That the victim was taunted with a confederate flag.
Leaving the preliminary hearing the victims parents told the Times-News outside the courthouse Friday they were proud of the courage their son showed and happy with the outcome of the hearing.
Tanner Ward is due back in court next in September. John R.K. Howard is due in court June 10.