One of the Idaho high school football players who sexually assaulted a black, mentally challenged teammate with a coat hanger was sentenced to 300 hours of community service and 2 to 3 years probation. No jail time.
One of three white high school football players who is accused of sexually assaulting a black, mentally challenged teammate with a coat hanger will not face any jail time. John R.K. Howard, 19 years old and 18 at the time of the crime, pled guilty to a felony count of injury to a child, reports MagicValley.com. The verdict confirms the prosecutor's belief that the incident was not a sex crime or a racially motivated hate crime. Howard had previously been facing a charge of forcible sexual penetration by a foreign object, which could have given him life in prison.
Howard was one of three white players on a high school football team in Dietrich, Idaho who perpetrated the attack on their black teammate, who suffers mental disabilities and uses a wheelchair, in October 2015 after a practice. The victim accuses the three teammates of restraining him and shoving a coat hanger in his rectum. The lawsuit claims that one teammate repeatedly kicked the coat hanger further inside of him.
There is much in the lawsuit to suggest racist motivations, as the victim alleges that he was called slurs, including the n-word, "Kool-Aid," "chicken eater," and "watermelon." Another allegation is that he was forced to learn a Ku Klux Klan song and carry a Confederate flag during the assault.
The verdict given to Howard, however, does not imply that any sex crime or hate crime was committed. Deputy Attorney General Casey Hemmer told District Judge Randy Stoker that -- while Howard's criminal act was "egregious," causing the victim "a lot of suffering" -- "it's not our belief that this was a racially motivated crime."
"This was more of a vulnerable victim-motivated crime," Hemmer continued. "I think it would have probably happened to anybody that was in the same kind of circumstances and mental state as the victim here."
“We don’t believe it’s appropriate for Mr. Howard to suffer the consequences of a sex offender,” Hemmer said. “But he still needs to be held accountable.”
Instead of any jail time, Howard will have to carry out 300 hours of community service and will be forced to serve two to three years of probation. If he fulfills his probation on good behavior, then his conviction could be thrown out altogether.
In September, another perpetrator, 17-year-old Tanner Ward, who was 16 at the time, had his adult felony charge -- also forcible sexual penetration by the use of a foreign object -- dismissed as a result of a plea deal. He now only faces a juvenile charge. Due to his age, the third perpetrator was initially charged as a juvenile, and thus his identity has not been revealed.
A $10 million civil lawsuit filed by the victim is still set to reach the U.S. District Court, despite the proceedings regarding the individual perpetrators. The lawsuit seeks to hold accountable the district, the school administrators, and the football coaches for their negligence regarding the victim's obvious abuse and suffering -- not just in the aforementioned locker room incident but months of "severe and pervasive harassment, racial discrimination, mental and physical assault and battery.”