FARGO, N.D. – Authorities referred five boys to juvenile court Thursday following alleged misconduct in the boys’ locker room at a small North Dakota school.
The Richland County Sheriff’s Office said an investigation into the incident at Richland 44 School in Colfax found “numerous juvenile male victims in various grades,” but no female victims or suspects.
The combined offences included nine counts of felonious restraint and one count of terrorizing, both felonies; 13 counts of hazing and 11 counts of sexual assault, both misdemeanours.
Details of another incident that happened in Bismarck also was referred to police there.
Attorneys for two of the students being investigated say their clients are being treated unfairly. Luke Heck and Charlie Sheeley said school officials suspended their clients without following the policies of the school board and without due process.
“It is very disappointing that the first time that we were given any idea as to what the specific allegation may be, which still has not been formally determined, was 15 minutes prior to the general public getting told the same thing,” Heck said. “This has been going on for nearly a month.”
Sheeley said they “will litigate the case as appropriate in juvenile court and not through press releases or letters to the media.”
Richland County Sheriff Larry Leshovsky did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking further comment. But the sheriff’s office news release said no other details would be released since the investigation continues and all the identified suspects and victims are juveniles.
School officials said Thursday that school district Superintendent Tim Godfrey is out of town until next week and wasn’t available for comment. However, school board President Lisa Amundson said “the board and entire school community are deeply concerned” about the seriousness of the allegations.
“Although we recognize that many in our school community have been frustrated by the perceived slow pace of this investigation, we commend law enforcement for its thoroughness,” she said. “Given the seriousness of the matter, we did not want to rush the outcome.”
A parent first notified the school of the alleged student misconduct on Jan. 17. Godfrey has said the alleged misbehaviour happened in the boys’ locker room.
School officials called all male athletes to a meeting the next day about the inappropriateness of what they then believed was “horseplay,” Godfrey said earlier. Later, other parents came forward with more information, leading school officials to call law enforcement because it became clear the situation “was much more involved,” Godfrey said.
The school board earlier this week agreed to seek an independent investigation related to the case, in order to “review of how this situation developed, analyze past failures, and recommend a program for ensuring that no student is ever subject to this type of conduct again,” Amundson said.
The school for seventh- through 12th-graders has about 160 students from the communities of Abercrombie, Christine, Colfax, Galchutt, and rural Walcott. Colfax mayor Scott Gauslow has said the situation has “put up a divide” in the normally tightknit community about 30 miles (48 kilometres) south of Fargo.