Three white high school football players in southern Idaho have been charged in the brutal sexual assault of a disabled teammate, who is black.
Ex-Dietrich High School students John R.K. Howard, 18, and Tanner Ward, 17, who played for the school football team last year, were charged by the state attorney general's office with felony forcible penetration by use of a foreign object. If convicted, they face a maximum of life in prison. A 16-year-old former teammate faces similar charges, but in juvenile court, where the charges and disposition of the case are not publicly available.
Prosecutors allege Howard and Ward sexually assaulted the victim, who was not identified, with a coat hanger while others participated or watched. The teen, according to court documents, has "mental disorders including learning disabilities."
The assault took place inside a high school locker room on Oct. 23, 2015, according to court documents obtained by The Washington Post. A teammate, under the pretense of giving the victim a hug, restrained him while Ward "physically forced a coat hanger into the plaintiff's rectum," the documents say.
Howard kicked the coat hanger several times while it was inside the boy's rectum, the documents allege.
"I screamed," the victim testified during an April preliminary hearing, according to Twin Falls Times-News. "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 assault caused injuries that required medical treatment, authorities said.
During last month's preliminary hearing, Ward's attorney, Michael J. Wood, said the victim's account was at odds with statements by other witnesses.
"The testimony is so inherently conflicting so as not to prove the event," Wood said.
The judge disagreed and ordered the case to continue to trial.
The victim's family has filed a $10 million lawsuit against the school and 11 employees, including administrators and coaches who are accused of failing to stop the abuse.
The lawsuit alleges the victim was subjected to frequent racist abuse by Howard and other teammates -- all of them white. The victim was "taunted and called racist names by other members of the team, which names included 'Kool-Aid.' 'chicken eater,' 'watermelon,' and ['n-----']," the lawsuit alleges. It also claims the teen was subjected to wedgies, simulated anal sex and "aggressive humping."
Howard, according to the lawsuit, was the leader of the abuse.
"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 complaint says.
Coaches and administrators "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," the lawsuit alleges. "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."
Two of the students charged in the attack have since been expelled. Howard has returned to Texas, where he is finishing high school, The Washington Post reported.
Howard is scheduled to appear in court again on June 10. Hearing dates for the other teens have not been announced.