Three Riverton High School wrestlers have been expelled for one year for assaulting and sexually harassing eight teammates on a school bus in January, Fremont County School District No. 25 Superintendent Terry Snyder announced Tuesday.
The incident occurred on Jan. 4 and the district became aware of it on Jan. 23, Snyder said in a press release. The circumstances remain unclear: Snyder says the investigation initially focused on hazing, but district administrators discovered an activity known as the “Snake Pit.” The press release does not detail what that activity entails but says that the athletes described it as “wrestlers wrestling around and roughhousing.”
But what happened on the bus was not that, Snyder said.
“These were attacks and in no way wrestling moves,” Snyder wrote in the press release. “The three perpetrators physically assaulted and sexually harassed eight victims on the bus. The assailants’ actions were appalling and they needed to be held accountable.”
In a subsequent interview with the Star-Tribune on Tuesday afternoon, Snyder said he was unable to describe what happened on the bus or what the “sexual harassment” included. Asked about the “Snake Pit,” Snyder repeated the athletes’ description, saying it “just boiled down to wrestlers wrestling around and roughhousing and horse play.”
“But this was well beyond that,” he said.
He said all the students involved were male wrestlers.
There were three coaches on the bus — the head coach and two assistants. All were at the front of the bus.
“On the last event, there was enough noise created that it drew the attention of the coaches,” Snyder said, meaning that the coaches became aware that something was happening. By that point, there were eight victims.
Snyder said the coaches were not aware of the extent of what was happening on the back of the bus. The district became aware of it when parents, whose children said they no longer wanted to wrestle, began to pry the information from the students. When those parents learned about what happened, they brought it to the coaches, who then took it to Riverton High’s athletic director.
The athletic director, the principal and assistant principal investigated the incident starting on Jan. 23, and within a couple of days, they brought Snyder a recommendation that the students be expelled. He concurred, he said.
But the expulsion process has been in the works for months, Snyder previously told the Star-Tribune, because a court case put it on hold. The families of the accused students had asked the school district for the names of the victims, which the district did not provide. The families then went to court.
The matter was resolved last month, and the hearing was held in late June. The meeting lasted for 13 hours, Snyder said, as both the accused and the district presented evidence and called witnesses. The school board reviewed the documents, met on Monday night and decided to expel the students for two semesters.
That sentence includes the semester that just ended and will extend to the end of the fall 2018 semester. The students will be eligible to return to school in January 2019.
The incident occurred while the bus was in Natrona County while enroute to a wrestling meet in Douglas. A spokesman for the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office told the Star-Tribune on Tuesday that the investigation had been sent to the District Attorney’s Office and that he could not provide further information due to the nature of the crime and the age of the suspects.
Snyder said he anticipates criminal charges will be filed.
Riverton High’s wrestling coach previously stepped down, which Snyder said in an earlier interview was due to the coach’s health and “for the best interest of the program.” He declined to say what role the bus incident played in the coach’s resignation.
Snyder said the district has changed its policies as a result of the incident. Coaches and sponsors will now sit in the middle of the bus instead of the front.
He said while the roughhousing had apparently occurred before — albeit, he said, without the district’s knowledge — there was no evidence the sexual harassment had happened previously.
“This was a whole different level,” he said.
Star-Tribune staff writer Shane Sanderson contributed to this report.