Wasatch High coach ordered to stand trial for allegedly striking, kneeing student

Published: Thursday, July 7 2011 2:48 p.m. MDT

AMERICAN FORK — A teacher and head football coach at Wasatch High School has been ordered to stand trial for allegedly assaulting a student at the school.

Fourth District Judge Christine Johnson bound over Steve North for trial on a charge of child abuse, a class A misdemeanor. Also Thursday, she allowed a videotape recording of the alleged incident to be admitted as evidence.

North is accused of hitting a student over the head with a hockey stick, pushing him against a wall and kneeing him in the groin.

Thursday, the 17-year-old student, wearing a white shirt and blue tie, took the witness stand and described what happened to him. The teen admitted to the judge he was very nervous and spoke at times at a level that was barely audible, even with a microphone.

The student said he was late to North's PE class at the Heber City school. He said he was talking to a friend in class when North confronted him, ultimately hitting him on the head with a hockey stick.

"I said, 'That's messed up, hitting me on the head with a hockey stick.' He said, 'I'll show you what's messed up.'"

The student said the coach then shoved him against a wall and kneed him in the "upper thigh and private area."

It was difficult to hear the next portion of the teen's testimony, but a victim advocate working with the student said he testified that the coach told him, "I'm not just going to hurt you, I'm going to kill you."

The student said he had a "goose egg" on his head for a day and a tennis-ball sized, black and blue bruise on his upper thigh. He said the pain was, "six or seven on the 10 list."

But defense attorney Scott Card said the student has changed his story three times.

"This young man's testimony is not credible," he told the judge.

On the witness stand Thursday, the teen said he forgot to tell prosecutors about the injury to his groin when he talked to them Wednesday, even though he testified to being kneed in the groin on Thursday. He blamed nerves for the oversight.

"You would think a boy would remember a black and blue mark on his groin," Card said outside the courtroom.

The teen also initially said he was five to 10 minutes late to class, but upon cross examination admitted it may have been 20 minutes.

Card said the teen also left out a "few choice words" from his testimony that he allegedly used the day of the incident. Upon cross examination, the boy admitted he may have told the coach, "I can't believe you just (expletive deleted) did that."

The defense noted that there was no evidence of the boy's injuries other than his testimony. He did not inform a teacher or see a doctor or have police take pictures of his injuries. It was only after some of his friends told other teachers what had happened that the incident was brought to the school administration's attention.

"I would submit to the court there was no injury," Card said.

During Thursday's preliminary hearing, school surveillance video from inside the gym where the incident occurred was shown. Card objected to having the video submitted as evidence because it is incomplete. Police investigating the case did not preserve the entire tape, he said.

On the tape, North can be seen raising a hockey stick like a hammer over the student and then coming down, but then the two move off screen and any contact cannot be seen.

Card argued that after the alleged assault, the student went back to participating in the floor hockey game. He said no one saw the boy limping.

The boy, however, said he wasn't actually playing because he couldn't run. He was just there in class holding a hockey stick.

Witnesses previously told the media that North was fed up with the student who was known for back-talking and disrupting his class. One student previously said the coach had tapped the boy on the head to remind him to be quiet.

Prosecutors called a police officer and school and district officials to testify Thursday. Though none of them directly witnessed the incident, they said they had all viewed the video and saw what appeared to be North hitting the boy with a hockey stick and kneeing him.

Each testified that the boy was seen talking with friends after the incident, at one point apparently re-enacting what happened to him. They did not notice him limping and say he stayed in class.

Card pointed out in the videotape how before the alleged incident, other students were messing around with the boy and appeared to poke him at least three times with a hockey stick themselves, including once in the groin area. None of the prosecution witnesses, however, testified to seeing that on the tape.

Johnson agreed the videotape evidence should have been better preserved by police, but ruled the defense could still argue its case without the full tape.

The courtroom was full Thursday with supporters for both sides. Many of the boy's family members were present and hugged each other after the judge allowed the tape to be submitted as evidence. At several points, family members could be seen shaking their heads as they listened to testimony. The teen sat quietly and looked down at the ground as the decision about the videotape was made.

North also had friends and family present for support. In March, hundreds of students from Wasatch High walked out of class in support of the popular teacher.

Card said he would need three days for trial and plans to call "one expert witness and a whole bunch of students," noting there were 47 in the gym class that day.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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