Three East High School football players have been arrested and charged in juvenile court after police say they forcibly held down other players and committed sex acts on them. The players eventually were kicked off the team.
The three defendants, all 15, each face multiple charges in 3rd District Juvenile Court, including forcible sodomy, attempted forcible sodomy and forcible sexual abuse, all first-degree felonies.
The Deseret Morning News does not print the names of defendants charged in juvenile court.
In one incident, a student said that after East's football game against American Fork on Aug. 30 and before the game against Highland on Sept. 6, he was jumped by two students in the locker room, according to court documents. The two juveniles held the victim down while a third attempted forcible sodomy, court documents state. The boy was able to escape by fighting off his attackers.
A second student said that sometime between Sept. 3 and 6 he was in the showers at East High School when two students pulled him to the ground and forced him into a corner of the shower.
In a third incident, a student said that after sophomore football practice on Sept. 11, he was in the locker room changing when another player told him he had something on his back, according to court documents. When the victim turned around the other boy grabbed him and held him down on a bench and attempted sexual assault, court documents state.
After that incident, another sophomore who witnessed the incident reported it to one of the sophomore team coaches, who then called Leopards head coach Aaron Whitehead.
"The next morning I reported it to my administration, and then we called the Salt Lake police," Whitehead said. "We immediately suspended the three players from the team. ... We've never had anything like this happen, and we certainly do not condone such activities."
Within a day of East administrators reporting the incident, police referred the case to Salt Lake County prosecutors. The student-athletes eventually were dismissed from the team and have not been attending school at East High, although district officials declined to say whether the boys have received specific discipline, including expulsion or suspension.
Charges were filed Sept. 19.
"The school did everything they were supposed to do," said Salt Lake School District spokesman Jason Olsen.
Olsen said the school has been working closely with the victims.
The incidents were being called hazing by some. But Olsen said neither hazing nor sexual assault against any student would be tolerated in the district.
"No matter what form it takes, it is not allowed in the district," he said. "It's disappointing some students would think something like this would be OK."
Whitehead said he sought out the victim of the third attack after it was brought to his attention. The other two incidents were discovered by police investigating the third case.
"I just put my arm around him and said, 'I sure hope to see you at practice today,"' Whitehead said. The boy showed up at practice and was embraced by teammates and coaches. "He's been contributing to our team."
Whitehead said the support of the school's administration and the swift action by other players and coaches have actually helped the team members grow closer. He said that while he has sophomore team coaches who work directly with those players, "all of the players are under my stewardship."
He said he met with the players immediately after the investigation occurred and explained why it was unacceptable behavior. He said it is interesting to note that the sophomore team is having more success since the incidents occurred.
"I think they saw that the head football coach is more concerned with them developing into good young men than just winning games," Whitehead said. "The varsity team has rallied around the sophomores, and they understand that there's more to life than football."