In October 2015, high school football player in Dietrich, Idaho, named John R.K. Howard trapped another teammate with mental disabilities in the locker room after practice and, along with two other teens, sodomized him with a wire hanger. The victim, who is black, reported the assault as a culmination of long-standing racist harassment from Howard and others on the team.
The Twin Falls Times-News reports that on Friday, Howard accepted a plea deal for felony count of injury to a child, down from the original charge of a felony count of forcible sexual penetration by the use of a foreign object. The lighter charge will likely lead to 2 to 3 years probation and community service. If he successfully maintains the condition of his probation he will avoid jail time and possibly have his conviction overturned. The leniency of Howard’s sentence is shocking to many, but Deputy Attorney General Casey Hemmer believes that Howard’s crime did not constitute a sexual assault, a position District Judge Randy Stoker agreed with:
“We don’t believe it’s appropriate for Mr. Howard to suffer the consequences of a sex offender,” Hemmer said. “But he still needs to be held accountable.”
Howard’s attorney, Brad Calbo, agreed with Hemmer’s recounting of the state’s evidence but said “it needs to be crystal clear … that this victim was not at any time pinned down, raped, or pinned down and subjected to any sort of forcible penetration.”
About the allegations of racist abuse and motivation for the assault, Hemmer said, “I will say that there are things that we found going around that school and that locker room involving a lot of the parties here that had racial undertones. But it’s not our belief that this was a racially motivated crime. This was more of a vulnerable-victim motivated crime. I think it probably would have happened to anybody that was in the same kind of circumstances and mental state as the victim here.”
The “racial undertones” Hemmer refers to include accusations that Howard and other players taunted the victim with a “Ku Klux Klan” song, and calling him various racial epithets, according to The Guardian. KTVB reports that the victim and his family have since moved away from Dietrich, and the 18-year-old suffered a break down shortly after the assault, seeking treatment in several facilities. His parents are reportedly “terribly disturbed and outraged” by the plea deal.
“It’s absolutely preposterous that this kid should walk away with apparently no punishment whatsoever,” said the victim’s family attorney R. Keith Roark, according to the Washington Post. “Everyone is more concerned with these young sociopaths than the victim of their violence.”