Story broke here Nov. 21, 2014; published in The Apple Leaf Nov. 26, 2014.
2nd place, National Scholastic Press Association, News Story of the Year
A 10-second video on the social network Snapchat was how one mother saw her son sexually assaulted on a Wenatchee High School freshman football trip on Sept. 6. She described, in an interview with police, her son being held down by a “huge kid and he (her son) was screaming like a little girl,” while approximately six other student athletes stood around watching and laughing.
On Nov. 6, the now 15-year-old freshman suspect appeared in court for what was supposed to be a hearing to determine if both parties were ready to go to trial, which has been continued. The suspect will now appear in court on Dec. 30 for a readiness hearing, and is scheduled to go to trial for the three counts of second-degree rape on Jan. 9. At the Nov. 6 hearing, both parties were still waiting for the final report from law enforcement, according to the hearing minutes. The suspect’s attorney, Brandon Redal, did not return a request for comment.
The final police report was filed Nov. 13, but Jared Reinfeld, Wenatchee Police’s lead detective for this case, noted that a police interview with WHS Principal Bob Celebrezze is still missing, which will be added in a later report. At least four more detectives or officers have worked on this case.
This report and more, obtained by The Apple Leaf through public disclosure requests to the Wenatchee Police Department, contain interviews of players who were on the freshman football team’s trip to WHS from Spokane, after their first away game of the season. Police also interviewed the bus driver and parents of some victims. Names of most interview subjects were redacted in police documents.
The student who took the video and posted it on Snapchat was suspended by Celebrezze, the police report said.
One of the three victim’s mothers told police Sept. 15 that her son hasn’t been the same since the assault. “He’s stressed and he wants to move,” she told police in an interview. “He made the comment he understands why people could commit suicide because all the negative and all the pressure he feels.” The victim told his mom that he wouldn’t go to that extent, and she told police that she would get her son a counselor, according to the police interview.
The coach, Kevin Sellers, who was the only Wenatchee School District employee on the bus, was asked to be interviewed when the police department began investigating, but instead requested a lawyer. “Given what Wenatchee School District did to Ed Knaggs, my client decided it would be wise to have an attorney present when interviewed by police,” Sellers’ attorney John Brangwin said in an email. Brangwin has contacted the police department twice for that interview, but the detective has yet to schedule it.
According to Reinfeld’s written report filed Nov. 13, “Kids mentioned the fact that (suspect) should not have been on the bus trip due to grades and or not having enough practice time.” A copy of the bus roster for that trip shows a name was added in writing to the bottom of a typed list, and one interview subject told police “(the suspect’s) name wasn’t posted on the bus ride.”
Athletic Director Jim Beeson said his department’s duty of care manual clearly outlines procedures for travel. If a student is academically ineligible, they can’t travel. There’s “no gray area,” he said. In the case of a student showing up to travel but not being eligible, Beeson said he would expect the coach to send the player home.
The A&A Motorcoach bus driver told Wenatchee police detectives Sept. 17 that it was the worst bus trip of her life — 47 passengers were on board. Students were loud and not staying in their seat, eventually to the point that the driver ended up calling her boss to request pulling the bus over to address the situation. The boss instructed her to let Sellers handle it, according to the police report.
The driver also told police that other coaches drove separately in a school vehicle. According to the police report, this was to allow more students to ride on the bus. One of the team’s assistant coaches said the assistants were told to ride in a separate vehicle by Sellers.
The bus did have a camera, according to the bus driver, but it was not activated during the trip. Beeson will contact A&A Motorcoach to see what can be done to ensure cameras are activated on every trip, he said.
Sellers remains on paid administrative leave at this time. Brangwin said his client didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary during the return trip Sept. 6.
“My client doesn’t have that perception (of the bus driver) that it was exceptionally loud,” Brangwin said, adding that freshmen boys football players are likely to be a louder group of people. The bus driver’s story is inconsistent with parts of Sellers’ story, Brangwin said.
When interviewed by police in September, multiple student athletes told police how “wild” and “crazy” the bus trip after the game was — details of screaming, students testing how many students could fit in the charter bus’ bathroom, depantsing other players, and general “horseplay” that eventually “got way out of hand,” according to police interviews.
“I think that was the first time he’s (the suspect) done anything like that. Everything else he’s done bad are usually with fights,” one witness told police. “He just was kinda different on the bus.”
A witness told police Sept. 11 that the suspect was watching pornography on the bus and trying to show other athletes.
Another witness on board had to use the bathroom during the bus trip, but before going, tightly secured his pants so no one could pull them down while walking the aisle, according to the police report. Some students in the middle of the bus, who knew what was going on, simply warned students from the front of the bus to stay out of the back.
Most students reported that Sellers walked the bus aisle two to three times during the return trip, and often asked students to quiet down from his seat at the front of the bus. “When he would walk back, everybody would be quiet,” one witness told police. “But then when he would walk to the front, it would just get loud again.”
When the assault was originally reported Sept. 8 by a football player’s parent to police, detectives dismissed the call after one interview with a student who said the bus trip was fairly normal, people were just messing around, and nothing “that bad” happened, according to a police report.
After that original interview, Celebrezze conducted follow-up interviews with students on the trip to discover that more happened than originally thought. That’s when he called detectives back in, and the investigation continued, according to the police report.
After five initial interviews on Sept. 9, Reinfeld had probable cause to arrest the suspect, which he did on Sept. 10 in a meeting with the suspect and his parents at the police department.
Not all witnesses described the incident as serious. Some heard yelling and saw horseplay, according to police interviews, but nothing inappropriate.
The suspect pleaded not guilty to all three counts of rape in court Sept. 25, and $50,000 bail was posted Oct. 1. While the suspect remains out of custody, he has not returned to WHS. He was emergency expelled following the incident. One of the suspect’s parents alleged that others on the bus participated in the assaults.
Attorney for the school district Danielle Marchant declined to comment on the student’s current status with the district, but she did say, in general terms, that emergency expulsions can only last for 10 days. “If the emergency expulsion is converted to another form of corrective action, then the requirements for the new corrective action will govern,” Marchant said in an email. She added that there are circumstances when an emergency expulsion can be converted to a long-term suspension.
Marchant wouldn’t go as far to call it a policy or even a rule, but she said the Athletic Department instituted a new plan that more than one adult has to be on each bus, in addition to the bus driver. Beeson said three coaches have to be on a bus — one at the front, middle, and back. If three coaches aren’t on board, the coaches that are present have to rotate between the three locations. This change took effect after the incident and is now a clear requirement in the duty of care manual, Beeson said. Although this procedure was in the duty of care manual prior to the incident, Beeson said it’s been reworded to make it a requirement. The procedure has yet to go before the school board for approval.
The district hired a private investigator to conduct the internal investigation, Superintendent Brian Flones said in early October. Marchant declined to comment on the status of the investigation because it’s ongoing. Brangwin said his client has been interviewed three times — once by Marchant; twice by the investigator — and anticipates that the internal investigation will end in December.
It is The Apple Leaf’s policy to not name student suspects or victims prior to trial and the paper would only print a name in the case of a serious felony. In addition, it is the paper’s policy to not publish graphic details, as disclosed in police reports.