Charges dropped against Payson coach accused of injuring 13-year-old player
PAYSON — Nine months after a volunteer football coach was arrested for colliding with a 13-year-old player running the ball near the sideline, all charges have been dropped.
And Nathan Harris is glad to be back to life as usual with his family.
"We're really grateful for all the family support, the friend support and the people who believed in me and my character," Harris said. "It's just nice that the truth has prevailed. We can start putting our life and my reputation back together."
Harris, 38, made headlines across Utah and the nation when a video showing the incident in the final minutes of a youth football game in Payson on Oct. 6, 2012, hit the web, and Harris was arrested for investigation of felony child abuse the following week.
When Utah County prosecutors declined to file charges, the case was referred to the Payson City Attorney's Office for possible misdemeanor charges.
A 4th District Court judge dismissed those charges with prejudice Thursday, meaning additional charges cannot be filed in the case.
Police described the blurry video released in the days after the game as a recording of Harris stepping out into the path of the 13-year-old and raising his arm, striking him under the chin, reportedly causing a concussion.
New video, presented by Harris' lawyer, Rhome Zabriskie, showed the child back up and playing after the collision, contradicting earlier accounts.
"I appreciated the way the prosecution handled this case," Zabriskie said. "When they saw that there were those inconsistencies, they took a very close look at it and made the right decision."
Harris, a father of six, said his family responded to the arrest and accusations as they would any obstacle they faced — together and with faith.
"We've been through a lot, even before this," he said. "We applied some of the same ways we got through some of the other trials, with prayer, faith and sticking together and supporting each other. We're just glad that things will return to normal, finally."
But the nine-month ordeal took a toll on Harris' employment, reputation and his children, all while online commenters declared themselves pundits and weighed in on the case.
Harris saw those Internet conversations continue Friday after it was announced the charges had been dropped, a fact he knows he must learn to live with.
"Nobody is going to go and take all my mug shots off Google. Nobody is going to take all the negative, nasty, terrible comments off," he said. "They're playing Monday morning quarterback like they would have known or done something different. It amazes me how judgemental people can be and how safe they feel, hiding behind a computer screen."
With the case closed before it could go to trial, Harris said he is ready to finally let go, though he long felt an acquittal was imminent. He is looking forward to living life without having to schedule business meetings and family events around court dates and interviews with his lawyer.
"You can't really move on or put it in the past until it's official," Harris said. "Now, we can just go about the everyday challenges that we face."
After everything that has happened, Harris said he isn't sure his oldest son, who was standing behind him when he collided with the young football player, will continue with the sport. His younger son, who was also present, is not so apprehensive.
And if the opportunity came up, Harris said he would be glad to coach again.
"If they need me to help coach, I'd be happy to coach," he said. "I don't think people should shy away from coaching just because of this story. It's worth it to be involved in your kids' life."
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