Two former members of the Riverton High School wrestling team pleaded guilty Friday to participating in attacks on younger schoolmates while on a school bust traveling through Natrona County.
Peyton Rees and James Hampton, both 17 and of Riverton, entered guilty pleas to two counts each of misdemeanor unlawful contact as part of deals with prosecutors. The charges stem from a case in which authorities say wrestlers on the bus held down teammates and anally penetrated the younger students with their fingers.
Hayden Wempen, 17, is also facing two counts of unlawful contact in Natrona County Circuit Court. He is set to enter pleas in September.
All three wrestlers have been charged as adults.
During Friday’s hearing in Natrona County Circuit Court, Hampton’s attorney, Sheila Gray, said the plea deal calls for a cap on the prosecution’s sentencing argument. Prosecutors will be able to argue for no more than one year of suspended jail time, with a max of 50 days served immediately and a year of supervised probation.
Rees’ attorney, Vance Countryman, said his client was also entering pleas as part of an agreement, but the details of that agreement were not discussed in court. Assistant District Attorney Dan Itzen said he will be able to argue for one year of suspended jail time, with a max of 30 days served immediately and a year of supervised probation.
Authorities say the attacks took place on a school bus travelling to a wrestling tournament in Douglas. The bus was in Natrona County at the time.
District officials have said they learned of the allegations on Jan. 23 after being informed by parents of freshman wrestlers, who no longer wanted to wrestle because of the attacks. It took two days to investigate internally. On Jan. 26, a Natrona County Sheriff’s Office investigator obtained notes and recordings of student interviews conducted by high school staff members. In those interviews, students describe upperclassmen holding younger teammates down or putting them in choke holds, covering the students’ mouths and forcing fingers into the wrestlers’ anuses through their clothes, court documents filed by prosecutors state.
The practice was known by various names, including “snake pitting” and “bungy poking,” according to the documents.
Authorities say video taken from the bus’s security camera shows the three older wrestlers holding down a younger student. Wempen and Rees then forced their hands into the student’s genital and anus area, the documents state.
Approximately 20 minutes later, the three boys physically restrained a second student, the documents state.
A school district official told the Star-Tribune in July there were at least three adults sitting near the front of the bus — the head wrestling coach and two assistants. Superintendent Terry Snyder said they became aware that something was happening on the back when a student made enough noise that it drew their attention.
Allegations related to the case have also 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 early July following a 13-hour hearing in late June. The students will be eligible to return in January.
It is not clear from court documents or school district statements whether Hampton, Rees or Wempen were among those expelled.
Wempen did not enter pleas when he appeared in court on July 20. A prosecutor said he expects Wempen will plead guilty to both counts as part of a deal.