HEBER CITY — Two Wasatch High School basketball players have been charged in connection with an incident that allegedly took place during a team bus trip.
At least one of William Jackson Gordon and Jeffrey Lynn Murdock's teammates described the incident as "hazing" during an interview with a Wasatch County sheriff's detective.
Gordon, 19, and Murdock, 18, are not charged with hazing though. Instead prosecutors charged the pair Monday in Wasatch County Justice Court with disorderly conduct, an infraction.
The allegations against the pair are spelled out in a 14-page sheriff's office report obtained by KSL-TV through a series of public records requests. The report documents the investigation into claims that Gordon and Murdock each exposed their buttocks during a Feb. 26 bus trip.
Gordon then squatted over the chests and faces of multiple teammates while other players held them down and chanted the word "sacrifice," according to the report. Murdock, who serves as the school's student body president, did the same thing to at least one player, witnesses said.
Detectives reviewed surveillance video from the bus and interviewed the four coaches who rode home with the team that night after an away game against Timpview High School. They also interviewed all of the players, 12 of whom are identified as "victims" in the report.
"The video footage shows the boys calling other boys to the back of the bus, holding them down and pulling their (own) pants down and placing (their buttocks) near (the other players)," the report states.
Investigators noted that video showed "there was no obvious physical harm or excessive force used" and that the boys "appeared to be in good spirits and slapped hands as they returned to their seats."
Wasatch head coach Jason Long told detectives he "trusted the boys" and hadn't witnessed any harmful or teasing behavior during the bus ride.
"Coach Long said he was allowing the boys to blow off some steam after a long season," the report states, noting that Long recalled the bus driver "telling the boys to sit down at one point in the trip."
The three other coaches also told investigators they didn't notice anything out of the ordinary, although one coach said the bus ride was "louder than normal" but attributed that to the fact that the team had just played its final game of the season.
Like their coaches, most of the players told detectives they didn't object to what was going on at the back of the bus. They said they could have refused to go back there when they were called on, but chose to take part in the activity. Most described the incident as "no big deal," "all for fun" or said they "thought nothing of it" the following day, according to the report.
One student, however, told investigators he "could see how it could have been a hazing and thinks they might have gone too far with the butt cheeks," the report states. A second player said when it was his turn to go to the back, he was "afraid."
"(He) told me he joined in because he feels there is peer pressure," an investigator wrote, adding that the player said he "felt awkward and weird" when he was held down.
"He felt a butt on his arm," the investigator wrote. "He then said he got up and went back to his seat.
"(He) then told me he wanted the hazing to stop and people to be held responsible and punished," the investigator added later.
Wasatch County Attorney Scott Sweat said his office reviewed state law carefully before deciding whether to charge Gordon and Murdock. They opted not to file hazing charges because the pair did not engage in behavior that caused "extreme humiliation, embarrassment or shame," Sweat said.
"Fortunately, because of the nature of what happened, it's not the most serious charge out there. Frankly, we're glad for that," he said.
The prosecutor noted that his office spoke with all the players and their parents before filing charges, but looked at the facts of the case and the law objectively before deciding how to proceed.
"In the end, I think we can say we made our decision based on the evidence, not based on any other factors that are out there," Sweat said.
In their report, detectives noted that Long and his assistants received reprimands from school administrators and were "instructed to continue to be vigilant about teasing and mistreatment among athletes." Investigators also indicated that all players involved in holding teammates down or pulling down their own pants were suspended from school.
When contacted by KSL for comment on the case, Wasatch County Schools Superintendent Terry Shoemaker released a statement confirming that high school administrators investigated "a report of possible student misbehavior on a bus trip" in late February.
"Based on that investigation, appropriate action was taken regarding those individuals who were involved," Shoemaker wrote.
If convicted of the disorderly conduct charge in justice court, Gordon and Murdock each face a fine of up to $750.
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