Dietrick, ID - In December, 2016, a high school football player in Idaho, John Howard, age 19, pleaded guilty to get a slap on the wrist for a horrific felony assault, while sexual assault charges against him were dropped.
According to The Washington Post, Howard, who is white, and two of his teammates at Dietrich High School were charged with sexual assault charges. The incident occurred in 2015, and the allegations were that they had lured the victim, a black, mentally disabled teammate, into a locker room with the promise of a hug, shoved a coat hanger into his rectum, and then kicked the hanger several times.
The assault first became known when the victim's family filed a lawsuit against the high school. In the lawsuit, which asks for $10 million, it states that the student was "taunted and called racist names by other members of the team which included ‘Kool-Aid,’ ‘chicken eater,' ‘watermelon,' ” and 'nigger.'" The victim and his adopted siblings are the only black people in the small town of Dietrich, Idaho.
John Howard, who now lives in Keller, Texas, pleaded guilty to one count of Felony Injury to a Child, under an Alford plea, which is considered a guilty plea in the eyes of the criminal justice system by agreeing that if the case had gone to trial, it would have most likely resulted in a conviction. All other charges were dropped. A judge will decide Howard's sentence in February, 2017, and options include two to three years of probation and up to 300 hours of community service. The other two suspects are juveniles and their case is pending in Juvenile Court.
The plea agreement was met with "bitter disappointment and outrage" from the victim's family. R. Keith Roark, attorney for the victim's family, said "It’s absolutely preposterous that this kid should walk away with apparently no punishment whatsoever." He said that he has protested the decision to the State Attorney General's Office and demanded an explanation.
No comments have been made by either the prosecutors or the defense attorney, due to a gag order that the Judge issued after the plea.
Casey Hemmer, Deputy State Attorney General, said that prosecutors would have been able to prove in court that Howard kicked the coat hanger into the victim's rectum. But he said that the violent assault was not considered a sex crime, and that is why he was offered the plea deal. Hemmer said “It was egregious behavior, it caused this victim a lot of suffering, but it is not, in my view, a sex crime, which is why the state has amended this charge. We don’t believe it’s appropriate for Mr. Howard to suffer the consequences of a sex offender, but he still needs to be held accountable.” If probation and community service is Mr. Hemmer's idea of accountability for a felony assault, then he has no business coming anywhere near a criminal case.
Why was this not considered a hate crime?
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