A judge on Wednesday sentenced two former Riverton High School wrestlers to 20 days in jail for attacking younger students on a school bus travelling through Natrona County.
After Hayden Wempen and James Hampton, both now of Colorado, serve their jail time, they will be placed on six months of unsupervised probation. If either Wempen or Hampton violates the terms of their probation, they could serve up to six months of total jail time.
Wempen pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of unlawful contact on Wednesday. Hampton entered guilty pleas to the same counts on Aug. 10.
“What we did was never intended to hurt anybody,” Hampton said shortly before the judge sentenced him.
Both Wempen and Hampton were 17 at the time of the crimes but prosecutors chose to charge them as adults.
Prosecutor Kevin Taheri said the Natrona County District Attorney’s Office could have charged both Wempen and Hampton with sex crimes for facilitating and participating in attacks in which at least three older wrestlers held down underclassmen and forced hands into the younger boys’ anuses.
Taheri said prosecutors decided not to charge the boys with sexual assault so they would not have to register as sex offenders if they were convicted of those counts. He asked the judge to sentence the boys to 50 days in jail with six months of unsupervised probation and the remainder of six months jail time hanging over their heads.
“They’ve been given a break here and they need to realize that,” Taheri said.
Hampton’s attorney, Sheila Gray, characterized the attacks as initiations to the wrestling team performed among friends. Her client did not act in “ill will,” she said. She asked the judge to suspend the entirety of the jail time and place her client on unsupervised probation.
When Judge Brian Christensen gave Hampton the opportunity to speak, he did so briefly, saying he was sorry.
“I see now that what I did hurt people,” he said.
Jeffrey Stanbury, who represents Wempen, then told the judge his client had been attacked in the same way when he joined the wrestling team as an underclassman. The so-called “snake pit” was deemed acceptable by authority figures, Stanbury said.
“This was an initiation ritual,” he said. “There was no abusive intent. There was no sexual intent.”
Wempen then spoke, saying that being on the receiving end of the attacks did not harm him. Wempen said he wrongly assumed that attacking younger wrestlers would not be harmful.
“Now I see how much it has hurt them,” Wempen said. “I wish that I could tell them sorry.”
Christensen handed down the sentences and the two boys were led out of the courtroom by sheriff’s deputies.
The attacks took place Jan. 4 on a school bus on the way to a wrestling tournament in Douglas.
The allegations led to three wrestlers’ expulsion from school for one year. The Fremont County School District No. 25 school board voted to expel the students in July, after a 13-hour hearing in late June. The students will be eligible to return in January.
Court documents do not indicate whether the expelled students include Wempen, Hampton or Peyton Rees, who pleaded guilty to the same charges in August.
Superintendent Terry Snyder told the Star-Tribune earlier this year a school-level investigation recommended expulsion after a two-day investigation. He concurred with that opinion, but the hearing was held up for months as the families of the accused students took the district to court in an attempt to obtain the names of the accusers.