Parent possessing cheerleader hazing tape denies school district accusations

Desert Hills High School, St. George, Utah, Sept. 10, 2019 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The parent of a former Desert Hills High School cheerleader, kicked off the team for a separate incident, says they came forward to the St. George Police Department with information about an alleged hazing incident after fearing an improper response from the Washington County School District.

The parent, along with school district officials, provided additional insight into the incident, which allegedly involved the bare buttocks of several older cheer squad members coming into contact with the faces of younger teammates. Given the sensitive nature of this story, as well as the fact that juveniles are involved, St. George News is respecting requests for anonymity.

During a public meeting of the Washington County School Board Tuesday, district Communications Director Steve Dunham said further investigation into the incident uncovered that “a disgruntled parent” had used video footage of the incident to make a “series of threats and use intimidation against other parents of team members.” The individual’s daughter was reportedly facing disciplinary action for an unrelated incident.

According to a formal statement sent to St. George News from Travis Christiansen, the attorney representing the parent, no threats have been made toward school officials or anyone else relating to the incident, nor were the videos used as leverage to have their daughter reinstated on the cheerleader squad.

“While I was working with the principal and the athletic director with the disciplinary action of my daughter, I discovered the hazing situation by accident,” the parent told St. George News.

According to the statement, the parent supports the decision to suspend their daughter from Desert Hills High School Cheer Squad “for her involvement in the hazing incident in June 2019 with other DHHS cheerleaders.”

The parent met with Desert Hills High School principal Justin Keate and the school’s athletic director, Kyle Campbell, on Aug. 29 to address the incident in question and was told it was “being managed,” according to the statement.

Welcome to Desert Hills sign adjacent to Desert Hills High School in St. George, Utah, Sept. 10, 2019 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

“I said I have evidence of a crime and I feel like you’re not going to do anything about it,” the parent said, describing the meeting with the principal.

The parent subsequently contacted the St. George Police Department Sept. 3 to determine the seriousness of the incident and the video footage, at which point they say in the statement they were told by police that the video was not considered child pornography.

St. George Police officer Tiffany Atkin confirmed that a conversation took place between the parent and a detective that day, adding that the parent was told to take the video to the school resource officer at Desert Hills High School.

ABC4 reported Tuesday that Dunham had concerns about the tape’s availability.

“We have an individual who is maintaining, copying and distributing these videos that contain a semi-nude juvenile female to our community,” Dunham told ABC4.

The statement from the parent in possession of the tape says that on Sept. 5, they dropped off flash drives containing video of the incident to the Washington County School District superintendent’s office, the assistant superintendent for secondary education’s office and the Desert Hills school resource officer. He also provided a copy to Christiansen, but no other copies exist, according to the statement.

Atkin confirmed the parent dropped off the footage for the resource officer but said no conversation took place in that instance.

Other cheerleader parents say video missing context

In a series of emails, other parents of the youth involved say they don’t believe the alleged incident was a hazing. One such email states the incident took place during a party that was not an official cheerleading event.

The parent said every participant was there willingly and that there was no “victim/perpetrator relationship.”

“These girls had no bad intentions,” the email states. “They spend countless hours together training and practicing — they love each other and are like family.”

Another parent said the girls involved “may all lose what they’ve worked for since (they were) children thanks to one angry parent and an unfortunate incident being taken with no context.”

Two teachers and a former educator also came forward saying that bullying is indeed a problem at Desert Hills High School.

Another person, describing themselves as a 20-year veteran in the education field, says that bullying at the school is “off the charts,” adding that the school district and Desert Hills administrators “provide only lip services” when it comes to instances of bullying.

District plans investigation

In an interview Thursday with St. George News, Dunham says the situation in question is “a muddy one” and the district is working toward finding out what happened. What concerns the district the most, he said, “is the hazing that took place and the culture that allowed it.”

The Washington County School District administrative building, St. George, Utah, March 5, 2016 | File photo by Mori Kessler. St. George News

He said a “desensitizing” of parents and students over the years has led to an acceptance of these types of behaviors.

“We need to change that,” Dunham said. “Our role as educators is to step in and say ‘no, we can do better than this.’ Let us be very clear: initiation proceedings of this nature are not acceptable and need to stop immediately.”

He says the district is moving forward with a thorough investigation, with the end goal being for the well-being of students.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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