A high school football player who launched a locker room assault on a black mentally handicapped classmate will not spend any time behind bars.
John R.K Howard, 19, was sentenced to three years of probation and 300 hours of community service after pleading guilty to felony injury to a child in December. The Associated Press reported that Howard accepted a modified plea deal where he could maintain innocence but acknowledge the prosecution would have landed a conviction.
Howard and two other players at Dietrich High School were charged for the October 2015 attack. However, the victim’s family identified the 19-year-old as the ringleader—accusing him of kicking a coat hanger up the victim’s rectum, according to KTVB.
We're headed up to Twin Falls right now for the sentencing of John R.K. Howard. pic.twitter.com/hh90dce6FC
— Katie Terhune (@KTVBTerhune) February 24, 2017
The teen is the only defendant who had their case heard in adult court. The 19-year-old could have the felony conviction dismissed if he successfully completes probation.
The victim’s family, who filed a $10 million civil lawsuit against the school, believes the assault was racially motivated. In a four-hour deposition obtained by the Times-News, the victim said teammates and coaches would call him racial slurs during the football season.
“Just a lot of different like name calling, like racial name calling, like (n*****) and stuff like that. He’d be, he’d be laughing. He’d be like, ‘You stupid (n*****),’ and stuff like that…Once, I told him I didn’t like it … It hurt, you know.”
A recorded conversation appeared to have caught the victim recanting his accusations. Taped by football coaches Mike Torgerson and Rick Astle on May 19, the teen reportedly said he lied during a preliminary hearing because his father said they’ll move to the Bahamas if they win the suit.
“The town of Dietrich should not have to suffer for this,” the victim allegedly said on the recording. “It was never my intentions. It was just all them, all my parents…I was fed lies and I said it and I signed it because I was pressured.”
However, the victim recanted the confession in a February 17 deposition, claiming he said what coaches and friends wanted to hear.
The victim has tried to kill himself multiple times since the October 2015 incident, according to court documents obtained by The Guardian. Since then, he has been hospitalized and lives in an assisted living facility.
Howard’s attorney, Brad Calbo, maintained the case didn’t have to do with race or rape. Calbo said the victim backed up towards Howard with a hanger between his buttocks and his client mistakenly kicked it.
Though a medical examination found that the victim’s rectum had no internal or external injuries, a school district investigation determined that it was more likely than not that he was sexually assaulted with a hanger, according to the Times-News.
“The racist stuff, it’s not there,” Calbo commented. “They’re absurd allegations…this has all been blown out of proportion for the pursuit of money.”
The civil suit is expected to be heard this summer.
[Feature Photo: Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office]