Hinton denies coaches, admin knew of wrestling abuses

HINTON, Iowa — While acknowledging some wrestlers were shocked with an electric stun gun and assaulted with a sex toy, lawyers representing the Hinton Community School District, administrators and coaches said the school did not cover up knowledge of the incidents.

Instead, the district learned of the incidents only after they were reported by a parent who had seen videos of them on a wrestler’s phone and during an ensuing investigation.

“… it is unequivocally denied that Hinton CSD or any offcials or employees had knowledge of this incident prior to the assistant coach being informed by the parents,” the district’s attorneys, Timothy and Zachary Clausen, said in a response filed Wednesday to a lawsuit filed by two Hinton wrestlers and their parents.

In the lawsuit, the two families allege coaches fostered a team atmosphere in which underclassmen were intimidated, bullied and harassed, culminating in events at two separate tournaments this season in which underclassmen were targeted for physical abuse. They also said coaches knew of those incidents and did not inform parents.

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They sued the school district, superintendent Ken Slater, then-head coach Casey Crawford, assistant coach Bradley “Woody” Skuodas and athletic director Brian DeJong for negligence and negligent supervision by the school district, saying the school did not have adequate measures in place to prevent the behavior, protect students from it and didn’t train employees how to respond to bullying, assault and sadomasochistic abuse by its students.

In its response, the school district denied the negligence and negligent supervision claims, saying the students who perpetrated the acts, not coaches or administrators, are to blame.

“The actions of one or more of (the plaintiffs’) fellow students were a superseding or intervening cause of the alleged incidents and the plaintiffs’ alleged damages,” the district said in its defense. “The sole cause of plaintiffs’ alleged injuries and damages, to the extent any were incurred, was the conduct of others not parties to this litigation.”

The district’s response said the two wrestlers and their parents who filed the suit also were at fault, and that fault was a cause of their damages.

Allegations of abuse surfaced in the days after the Feb. 2-3 state dual wrestling tournament. While staying in a Coralville hotel, the lawsuit said, three upperclassmen held freshmen down on a bed and shocked them with a stun gun. Other freshmen were shocked while standing up, and some agreed to shock themselves after being threatened.

The district in its response acknowledged a stun gun was used by three upperclassmen on certain freshmen while being held down or while standing up. It also admitted one of the boys who filed the lawsuit was held down and shocked, but had no information to dispute the other boy who sued had used the stun gun on himself, as alleged in the lawsuit. The school denied claims coaches did not do room checks during the teams’ hotel stay.

In response to allegations that Crawford, Skuodas and DeJong, who accompanied the team as the athletic director, had taken the two free drink vouchers each room received and were in or near the hotel lobby drinking alcohol while the alleged assaults occurred, the district said DeJong and two of four coaches had “a few beers” on Saturday night during dinner at the hotel.

Those alleged assaults came weeks after another incident at a tournament in Omaha, where, the lawsuit said, wrestlers were allowed to leave the hotel and go to a mall, where several wrestlers bought dildos and other sex toys.

That night at the hotel, some students forcibly used dildos on other wrestlers, in one instance shoving a dildo down one boy’s throat.

In its response, the school district said the students were allowed to go to a mall, but after Skuodas heard them talking about a dildo potentially being purchased, he checked their bags. He didn’t find anything, but told the wrestlers if he did find something, he’d notify their parents.

The district said only when investigating the alleged Coralville incidents did administrators learn a dildo had been purchased in Omaha and “that students were engaged in inappropriate behavior with the item.”

The district also said the two wrestlers who have sued weren’t on the trip to Omaha, so it has no relevance to their claims against the school, coaches and administrators.

Those two wrestlers and their parents, who are not being named by the Journal in order to protect their identity, alleged in their lawsuit, filed in April in Plymouth County District Court, that wrestling practices were “a breeding ground for harassment and bullying,” and coaches encouraged physical and mental intimidation through games such as “slap back,” in which wrestlers were slapped on the back so hard that marks remained for days, and “target” in which individuals, usually a junior varsity team member, were pelted with dodge balls by the rest of team with the goal to hit the student as hard as possible.

In its response, the district said wrestlers did play slap back, “a game of tag common for wrestling teams,” and had played it numerous times in front of parents and fans. They also played dodge ball “to take the boredom out of running during warmups at practice.” The district denied the games were malicious or targeted JV wrestlers.

The district also denied allegations in the lawsuits that wrestlers were choked out, tripped, punched and shoved in the locker room, during practice and meets.

After the incidents in Coralville came to light, Crawford and Skuodas were placed on administrative leave, but Crawford was allowed to continue in his teaching position. He has since resigned his coaching position. Skuodas was reinstated to his coaching position after serving two days on leave and coached the team at the state individual wrestling tournament. He remains on contract through the school year.

In March, DeJong, who also was the middle school principal, submitted his resignation, effective in June.

The three students believed to be the perpetrators of the Coralville incidents were suspended for 10 days and did not wrestle in the district meet, preventing them from possibly qualifying for the individual state tournament. The school board ultimately voted 3-1 during a special session to “reassign” two of the three from school.

Coralville police were notified of the incidents, investigated them and later referred three Hinton students to juvenile court services. In most cases except those involving the most serious crimes, juvenile court files are confidential. Coralville Police Chief Shane Kron said the investigation is closed.

The parents who sued said in the lawsuits their sons have suffered mental, physical and emotional distress. They are seeking damages in an amount to be determined at trial and punitive damages.

The district also requested a jury trial.


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