John R.K. Howard and two other classmates were initially charged with sodomizing a disabled, Black teammate with a clothes hanger in 2015 in the small village of Dietrich, Idaho.
The sexual assault charge against Howard was later dropped and he entered an “Alford plea,” meaning he maintained his innocence but concluded that the jury would likely find him guilty. Last week, he was sentenced to probation for felony injury to a child and avoided any jail time.
The Chicago Tribune now reports that there may be even more issues with the controversial case. Not only did school officials not immediately report the incident, but attempted to handle it on their own by collecting key evidence – including the hanger that was used – and interviewing nearly 30 potential witnesses.
According to the victim’s mother, the teen was pressured by football players, coaches and other members of the small town until he eventually broke down and had to be institutionalized for a time.
The victim struggled with mental health needs and had difficulty detailing the timeline of his interactions and picking up on the clear racial undertones of his bullying. He was reportedly nicknamed “grape soda,” ”fried chicken” and “Kool-Aid” by both teammates and coaches, who then denied any knowledge that they were connected to racial stereotypes. School officials were made aware of some of the taunting, but did nothing.
While there are different stories about what happened in the locker room in 2015, one account states that one student asked the victim for a hug before another shoved a clothes hanger into his rectum. Howard then reportedly kicked the hanger as many as three times.
A long-established culture of secrecy and silence played a role in how the town of 300 people treated the incident. As well as the fact that the victim is part of the very few Black families in the area.