By Janet Eastman
Ateen boy and three Ashland High School football players face criminal charges after a six-month investigation into a possible hazing at a summer football camp found multiple attempted sexual assaults, police said.
The teen, a 17-year-old who no longer lives in Ashland, was arrested Tuesday on four counts of first-degree attempted sexual penetration with a finger and five counts of coercion.
The three Ashland football players were charged with coercion, and two of them also face conspiracy charges for their role in the attempted assaults.
The attempted sexual assaults involved three victims, and five players were coerced into other acts that police declined to identify.
“As far as we can substantiate, there were four incidents of an attempted digital penetration and several students were coerced into doing something that can be described as being embarrassing and degrading under pressure from a few members of the football team,” said Ashland police Detective Sgt. Tighe O’Meara.
Eighteen AHS players are potential witnesses to one or more of the incidents, Ashland police said. The incidents occurred during a football training camp held June 21-24 at Linfield College in McMinnville.
O’Meara would not say what the students were coerced into doing. But a mother who asked not to be named said her son was ordered to rub his testicles with Icy Hot sore-muscle cream as part of an initiation of would-be varsity players and other sophomores.
The apparent instigator behind the incidents, whose name is being withheld because he is a minor, has been in the custody of the Oregon Youth Authority since last year. The boy has a juvenile record of fourth-degree assault and unlawful manufacturing and delivery of a controlled substance from April 2012.
Although he was never enrolled in AHS, he practiced four times with the AHS football team last summer.
His probation officer and others gave him permission to attend the football camp with the AHS team and coaches.
He was lodged at Juvenile Services in Medford on Tuesday and released Wednesday morning. He reportedly is staying at his father’s home in Medford.
The three AHS football players were charged with five counts of coercion, a Class C felony. Two of the players were charged with conspiracy to attempt to commit unlawful sexual penetration in the first degree.
The players, whose names are being withheld because of their age, were cited and released. None had prior records, according to Juvenile Services.
The Jackson County District Attorney’s Office is reviewing the Ashland police report and could make a statement about charges today.
Ashland School District Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said Thursday that the district will now begin its own investigation.
She said head football Coach Charlie Hall reported the incident shortly after it happened to the Oregon Department of Human Services as mandated. A report was then sent to Oregon State Police.
Ashland police were alerted of the hazing and possible assault on July 9. Since then, they have interviewed 48 students, parents, coaches and faculty members.
The APD concluded that Ashland’s football team has no history of hazing or sexual assault.
“Even though it’s a serious incident, at no point did we uncover that it’s pervasive,” Chief Terry Holderness said. “Based on interviews, no one said they felt unsafe in the Ashland football program.”
Di Chiro said the June incidents and investigation have “caused us to re-examine the past practices.”
Di Chiro said the school district relied on an assessment of the arrested 17-year-old by the staff at Lithia Springs School in Ashland. Students at the school, which is run by Community Works, are typically in the custody of the Oregon Youth Authority and live in a nearby home.
OYA spokeswoman Ann Snyder said the youth had no prior incident of any kind of sexually inappropriate behavior, and his probation officer, OYA, Lithia Springs and Hall agreed the camp would be a good opportunity for the youth.
“This is out of the ordinary for him,” she said. “He was taking part in the football program as part of reformation. Most of the youths who are with us return to the community, and so we want them to be a part of the community and to engage in the types of normal growing up and school activities that kids do.”
She said other youths in the custody of OYA have participated in football and wrestling over the years.
“We have worked well with Coach Hall in the past,” she said. “And the youths who have successfully gone through the program have come out crime-free and productive.”
She said she and her staff will be evaluating to see whether there was anything they could have done differently to help the arrested youth make better decisions. “This is a really unfortunate situation,” she said.
David Cowan, an Ashland father who has had three boys in the football program since 2007, said Coach Hall has been transparent about the events.
On June 28, Hall emailed players’ parents to say that “the incident at camp started off as a prank among a small group. That prank turned into hazing. When physical threats were added to the hazing, then that became a potential assault.”
It is against school district policy for any type of hazing to occur at any time at school or a school-sponsored event, district officials said.
A mother whose son was on the football team this year but did not witness any of the incidents said, “As a parent, you wonder if maybe you don’t know what’s going on, but in this case, the program was above board.
“I know that Coach Hall is an advocate for his players but he also has strict rules. He has no tolerance for anything like this,” she said. “He knows a lot about the players, their private lives and those who have MIP (minor in possession charges), and he handles a lot of stuff most of us are not aware of.
“Kids make mistakes but he makes them handle them,” the mother said. “This is just a shame it happened.”
Jackson County Sexual Assault Response Team, Community Works and Ashland police have been giving sexual assault prevention programs at Ashland Middle School and Ashland High School for three years. A Community Works employee and others were asked to talk to the players soon after the Linfield incidents.
More prevention classes are scheduled for the two schools this year. There will be Ashland Middle School Parents’ Nights prior to the classes to explain the issues and curriculum, said Susan Moen of JCSART.
“As a community and as a culture, we need to recognize and understand the barriers that kids face to coming forward when they are threatened or hurt,” Moen said, “and that as adults, we need to model safe bystander intervention techniques and show them that when they come to us for help, we will not blame or judge but we will believe and support them, whatever the circumstances.”
Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.