Education

Wrestling team’s ‘brutal hazing’ led to sexual assault of Beaufort Co. student, lawsuit says

A freshman wrestler at Beaufort High School was physically and sexually assaulted in a “brutal hazing ritual” by his teammates in 2017, according to a a 2018 police report of the incident and a lawsuit filed Friday by the student’s mother against Beaufort County School District.

The suit, which identifies the student and his mother as John and Jane Doe, alleges that the teen “was tackled and held down on the floor, verbally threatened, punched, kicked, and one or more team members penetrated his rectum with their finger.”

District spokesman Jim Foster said Tuesday that the district had conducted an investigation into the alleged incident.

When asked whether any student or employee of the district was disciplined in connection with the incident, he said he could not comment but that the team faced “no repercussions” following the investigation.

The student told police about the incident in an April 2018 interview with Beaufort High School Resource Officer Eric Hayes, according to a report by the Beaufort Police Department.

While team members were hanging out in the school’s “small gym” after a November 2017 practice, “an unknown person yelled ‘Freshman intiation!,” according to the report.

“‘Everyone’ started to wrestle him,” the report’s victim statement reads, “practicing moves, hitting him, and joking around. (He) stated at this point he was certain no one was trying to hurt him because he and everyone else was laughing and having a good time.”

He wound up on his back and held down by multiple members of the team, according to the report. He rolled onto his stomach to escape the hold, but they continued to hold him down, he told police.

“During the attempts to get up from his stomach, he felt an unknown object, what he believed to be a finger, penetrate his rectum one time,” the report reads. “... He immediately stood up, yelled at everyone, and went into the locker room to change.”

‘I doubt that ever happened’

The incident was mentioned to him several times, sometimes by people who were not present but had heard rumors of what happened, according to the report.

The student’s mother filed a police report about the incident in April 2018, after the student’s sister confronted him about a rumor that he “had his pants pulled down and was ‘raped,’” according to his statement in the police report.

The student told police that a few weeks after the alleged incident, an “unknown person” joked about it in front of the team and their head coach, Travis Wynn, at a Hilton Head wrestling tournament, according to the report.

“Coach Wynn replied ‘I doubt that ever happened,’” the report reads. “(The student) stated Wynn never asked him what happened, and he figured it was because Wynn was mad that the team did not get 1st place.”

According to the student’s statement, Wynn was not present for the weekend practice where the incident occurred.

The student told police a coach he did not know, whom he described as white, brown-haired, tall and muscular, was present but did not witness the incident.

When interviewed by Beaufort High school resource officer Eric Hayes, Wynn said he “would have notified the school immediately” if he knew about the alleged incident, according to the report.

“Wynn stated due to (the student) being a freshman on the varsity team, he did ‘get it rough’ but even though wrestling was an incredibly physical sport ‘get it rough’ in no way meant (he) was assaulted or harmed,” the report read.

Foster said Tuesday that Wynn resigned at the end of the 2017-18 school year.

The student’s mother sent screen shots of a wrestling team group chat to the police in May 2018, according to the report.

Seven members of the wrestling team were “discussing an unknown teacher asking about hazing,” the report reads. They discussed hazing “being frowned upon for the Beaufort wrestlers, and that they don’t do it.”

One of the wrestlers commented: “Unless there (sic) talking about us fingering him but that’s a game <emoji> We do that to everyone,” the report reads.

According to the report, another user responded: “If they wanna say we hazed him, we might as well haze him.”

Not wanting anyone to ‘get in trouble’

Foster said Tuesday that the district has not yet been served the lawsuit.

Foster said the district had investigated the event and cooperated with law enforcement. He said that no charges were pressed by police.

In an interview with Hayes, the student told police that “due to his existing friendships with the other wrestlers on the team, most being seniors about to graduate with scholarships, and him not wanting anyone to ‘get in trouble,’ he no longer wanted to move forward with a law enforcement investigation,” according to the police report.

The student’s mother, who is listed as the only plaintiff in the lawsuit, is seeking damages, “plus the cost of this action and for such further relief as the Court deems entitled.”

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Rachel Jones covers education for the Island Packet and the Beaufort Gazette. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has worked for the Daily Tar Heel and Charlotte Observer. Rachel grew up in Ayden, NC, surrounded by teachers.
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