A black teenager who prosecutors say was sexually assaulted by three white football players in the locker room of an Idaho high school has sued the school district, alleging the rape was the culmination of months of racist taunts and physical abuse.
The federal lawsuit says the school failed to prevent the bullying and attacks despite many incidents happening in front of football coaches and other officials at Dietrich High School, which serves a rural town of 330 people that is predominantly white and known for being religious.
The teen said the abuse included a forced fistfight that coaches encouraged to toughen him up.
"The deliberate indifference and negligent actions of these defendants exposed the plaintiff to harm from fellow students, including at least one student known to have a history of aggressive, bullying and violent behavior," according to the lawsuit filed May 13.
School officials declined to comment.
Three teens have been charged in the Oct. 23 rape, which took place after one of the victim's football teammates pretended to give him a hug, according to the lawsuit. Instead, the player held him down so 17-year-old Tanner Ward and 18-year-old John Howard could assault him with a clothes hanger.
Despite his screams, no staff members came into the locker room to investigate, the lawsuit says. It contends that the school had no policy for monitoring locker rooms.
Howard and Ward have been charged with felonies in adult court, and the third teen is charged as a juvenile. Ward's attorney declined to comment, and Howard's lawyer did not immediately return a phone message left at his office.
The lawsuit says school officials knew that Howard transferred to the school from Texas and described him as a large and aggressive student who had been sent to live with relatives in southern Idaho to keep him out of trouble.
In August, football players and coaches encircled the victim and Howard as part of a "toughening up" program that involved nighttime fistfights, the lawsuit says. The victim wore boxing gloves, while Howard fought bare-fisted.
The coaches are accused of promoting the fight that eventually knocked the victim unconscious as students called out racial epithets.
Howard also demanded the victim learn the lyrics to a Ku Klux Klan song known as "Moon Man" while forcing him to view a Confederate flag on a computer, according to the claim. Meanwhile, other members on the football team taunted him with racist names and subjected him to aggressive humping.
Idaho law mandates that juveniles ages 14 to 18 accused of certain felony crimes on or near school campuses be charged as adults. That includes the sex assault charge. Court records for the juvenile defendant have been sealed.
The Associated Press typically does not name people who say they are victims of sexual assault.