ST. ANSGAR — Allegations of a violent and disturbing encounter between five St. Ansgar high schoolers and a fellow student in a school hallway on Sept. 22 are detailed in a police report recently obtained by the Globe Gazette.
The report written by St. Ansgar Police Chief Lance Schutjer describes video footage of a group of boys tackling another student and striking him in the hallway during a volleyball game. Then, police say, one of the boys attempts to stick his finger into the boy’s rectum through the boy’s clothing.
School violence experts contacted by the Globe Gazette say school officials did the right thing in calling the police, but parents of the boys accused of committing the acts dispute the characterization of the video and question why the incident wasn’t handled through the school’s discipline policy, instead of the police.
“The reports contained false information and embellishments of events which simply did not match what could be seen on the video or the reported eyewitness accounts,” according to a statement given to the Globe by a parent of one of the accused.
The Globe was denied access to the video, which was recorded by a school security camera. It obtained the police report compiled by Chief Schutjer, who is also the school district’s softball coach, after three months of trying via open-records requests and the assistance of the Iowa Public Information Board.
The names of the accused boys, all members of the football team, and the victim, or victims, are redacted from the report. The Globe Gazette verified the names of the accused, but is not identifying them as they are juveniles and charges were not filed.
School officials found the video of the alleged incident in St. Ansgar during a routine review of school security video. Officials learned of a second video showing the same behavior, in which students dragged a student into the hallway by his hands and feet and were removing his clothes, according to the police report.
Concerned, St. Ansgar Superintendent Jody Gray said the district called Schutjer the same day the videos were found.
She said the district wanted to be as transparent as possible, and avoid allegations of favoritism or insinuations that it was hiding something.
“We basically wanted impartial people to come in and look at what it was,” she said.
Franklin College Professor Hank Nuwer, an anti-hazing advocate, said the school did the right thing in contacting police. Educators need to contact police as soon as possible in cases of any suspected criminal wrongdoing, which Nuwer believes may be the case in St. Ansgar.
“They’re not paid to be police officers, they’re educators,” said Nuwer, who reviewed the police report for the Globe Gazette. “I think, once they cooperated with police, they’ve at least done their due diligence.”
Schutjer interviewed the boys and then referred five cases to Juvenile Court Services for one charge each of simple misdemeanor assault.
The behavior, which students allegedly told officials was called “aping” and “doing an oil check”, was investigated by the state juvenile justice agency’s Mason City office. It was referred to Mitchell County Attorney Mark Walk for review.
Walk said the behavior depicted in the videos was inappropriate, but he felt it wasn’t perceived by the recipient as bullying or hazing and didn’t warrant criminal assault charges.
He declined to file formal charges and the boys face no sanctions in juvenile court.
“I viewed this more as a roughhousing incident that perhaps went a little bit too far,” Walk said in a phone interview. “Definitely required some discipline by the school, but I didn’t believe it rose to the level of a criminal assault.”
However, he believes it had happened more than once.
“The kids that were doing the aping, you know, were also the kids that were being aped at other times,” Walk said. “This wasn’t a one-time incident, but you had kids who were both victims and then in subsequent videos they were the apers, so to speak.”
School officials had never heard of this happening in the school before Sept. 22, Gray said.
Parents said the boys take responsibility for the actions, but that they hadn’t realize they were doing anything wrong. They denied hurting anyone and said they didn’t feel victimized by other boys, according to the parents’ statement.
They claim school officials did not tell them what their sons had done wrong. Only with the help of attorneys were parents able to view the videos of the behavior in question, parents said.
“When your teenage son completely and honestly believes that the actions in question with his friends were not wrong, this whole process has raised more questions than answers,” the statement said.
Parents say the boys received suspensions ranging from 1 to 9 days. One was expelled, in part for the incident, officials say.
The accused also missed some or all Homecoming activities, at least one athletic event or extracurricular event and lost out on mentoring or honor programs they were or could have been involved in, parents said.
The school hasn’t commented on any discipline, citing federal student privacy laws.
Gray, the superintendent, feels the district did the right thing by calling the police for an outside review of the situation.
“I would do it all again,” she said. “I think that was the right thing to do for all involved.”
Even though he declined to file charges, Walk agrees.
“I actually think it was handled appropriately,” he said. “The school did their investigation. The police did their investigation. It was referred to juvenile court. Everything was handled, in my opinion, appropriately.”