Some Mead parents, students frustrated with school district's response to alleged football player assaults

May 15—Outcry over alleged assaults committed by some Mead High School football players intensified Monday after the Mead School District held a meeting on the incident and students staged a walkout over what they say is a lack of transparency.

Some parents walking out of Monday night's meeting at the high school voiced anger and frustration about the gathering that was only open to Mead football players, their parents and those interested in playing this season.

The incidents stem from June, when a group of Mead High football players restrained two teammates and applied a "massage gun" to their private parts at an Eastern Washington University-hosted football camp, according to an investigation by the district.

District spokesman Todd Zeidler said Superintendent Travis Hanson, incoming athletic director Troy Hughes, principal Kimberly Jensen, head football coach Keith Stamps and a player spoke at the meeting.

Hughes, principal at Northwood Middle School in Spokane, will start his athletic director role July 1, Zeidler said. John Barrington retired from the position Feb. 28, and Lynn Coleman is serving in the interim.

Ziedler said Barrington submitted his retirement paperwork in late fall, and his decision was not related to the alleged assaults.

Zeidler said the meeting was intended to "help give clarity" and not to defend or explain actions the district took. He said Hanson felt they needed to connect with families ahead of on-field football activities later this month.

In a May 1 letter to Mead parents, district officials wrote that they would review the district's investigation and "put a few rumors to rest" at the meeting.

"We want to assure you that each of us — superintendent, building principal, and the coaching staff — is dedicated to rebuilding trust, reinforcing core values, and ensuring that Panther Football (and all of Mead's athletics and activities programs) continue to focus on equipping young people to be quality humans and leaders in their community," the letter said.

Ziedler said the district could not answer certain questions, which the letter said were to be submitted online before the meeting or on a note card at the meeting, because of student and staff privacy concerns and pending litigation.

Some parents claimed they were not allowed to ask questions, which contributed to their frustration.

Ziedler said the district disciplined involved students and staff, but declined to say what the disciplinary measures were or which staff members were disciplined.

"We understand the desire many have expressed for more timely communication and more transparency," according to a May 6 letter from Hanson and district board members to district families. "That being said, school officials must be cautious to protect the integrity of an investigation process and are bound by legal guidelines and privacy rights afforded to those involved."

Board members could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

In the district's May 6 letter, it said the incidents at the camp were "symptomatic of deeper issues."

"Yes, we must address hazing, intimidation, and targeted physical harassment, but the investigation also uncovered issues of racial harassment and tension that we cannot and will not ignore," the letter said.

Marcus Sweetser, trial attorney at Sweetser Law Office in Spokane, is representing three victims and their families in the alleged assaults. He was one of the people who showed up at the high school to attend the meeting but was turned away at the door.

"Mead's attorneys were present at the meeting," Sweetser said in a statement. "We have submitted a public records request as part of our investigation. We hope Mead timely complies, so that we can get to the bottom of this, and that Mead is more transparent in the future."

Sweetser said a large focus of his complaint is the several-month period that elapsed from the time a parent notified Mead officials about the alleged assaults to when parents were notified of the camp incidents.

Sweetser said he has not yet filed a lawsuit against the school district and is still collecting evidence.

Mead High School's resource Deputy Mitchell Othmer submitted misdemeanor fourth-degree assault charges in March for five students to the Spokane County Prosecutor's Office, according to an email from Othmer to EWU Police Det. Robert Schmitter.

The status of the cases Tuesday was unclear, and the prosecutor's office could not be reached for comment.

The May 6 letter said the investigation revealed "a troubling pattern of poor choices and interrelated misbehaviors," and "underlying problems in our school culture."

In the May 1 letter, officials wrote that many players took part in "inappropriate and offensive behavior that involved elements of hazing, including acts of intimidation and targeted harassment."

"Details about what happened at team camp came in bits and pieces over an inordinately long period of time, and ultimately, the severity of what took place last summer was fully realized at a time months removed from the actual incidents," the letter said.

The camp incidents and subsequent investigation have not been lost on Mead students.

Over 100 students walked out of Mead High School on Monday protesting the school district's response to the alleged assaults and asking for more transparency from the district.

"We're showing that what was done wasn't OK," said Calla Sicilia, a Mead junior. "It wasn't hazing. It was assault, treading on the lines of sexual assault."

Senior Adia Torres said the walkout was held Monday in part because of the football meeting that night. She said she hopes the district provides more clarity to parents and students, so students feel safe walking down the hallways at school.

Kadence Jurgens-Prickett, a sophomore, said she and other students don't feel safe at the school because of the football incidents and others involving bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault she feels the district has not appropriately addressed.

"We should at least know what is going on because there is so many rumors and things like that," she said of the alleged football assaults.

Some drivers passing by the front of the school honked in support of the protesters, who held signs like, "Mead should protect our Panthers," "Is our safety a joke?" and "We need more adult accountability." Sicilia said other drivers directed vulgar remarks at the students.

Protesters said some students at the school think the football incidents were a joke.

"I'm out here because I feel like what happened to the students was extremely wrong and shouldn't have happened," sophomore Aisling Lamanna said.

Senior Sidiq Moltafet told The Spokesman-Review last week that video of the alleged assaults circulated on group chats and text messages late last year. Moltafet, a former Spokesman-Review high school intern, said he is disappointed in the administration's response to the hazing since videos of the incident were sent to school leadership by parents.

He said many students take pride in a sense of belonging and "close-knit family" at the school, but that is being tarnished by the district's failure to take action on these matters.

Moltafet said he hopes those involved would be suspended or expelled, but instead officials buried the incidents under the rug.

"I think that failure to take action with the administration is really frustrating the students who are trying to get an education, who are trying to move forward and learn," Moltafet said.

Editor's note: This story was changed on May 15, 2024 to remove incorrect information. District spokesman Todd Zeidler said no student shared any video footage of the hazing incident with school officials.