Sex assault on team bus reported

STRASBURG – A criminal investigation into a report of sexual assault involving boys basketball players and a related threat of a federal civil rights lawsuit hung over Strasburg High School on Thursday.

Maj. Scott Proctor, of the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office, said his office has been investigating the incident, which happened sometime in mid-December, since Tuesday.

“We received information Jan. 12 from the Strasburg Police Department,” Proctor said. “They reported an incident of alleged sexual assault that occurred in 2015.”

The victim was a 16-year-old boy traveling with the basketball team on a bus that was either on its way to a game or returning to the school, Proctor said.

Proctor said no injuries have been reported, and the investigation is in its “early stages.”

The incident led Superintendent Jeremy Raley to issue a written statement Thursday announcing that Strasburg High School junior varsity and varsity boys basketball practices and games have been suspended until further notice.

Raley said the incident was reported to division administrators earlier this week. He said the division had received “what initially appears to be substantial allegations about physical misconduct among student athletes participating in the basketball program at Strasburg High School.”

Raley said he “cannot” comment on what, if any, disciplinary actions may have been taken against students or school personnel in the aftermath of the incident.

Proctor said the Sheriff’s Office is “working closely” with the Commonwealth’s Attorney office and officials from several other agencies, including Strasburg police, Shenandoah County Public Schools and the Department of Social Services. No one has been charged.

Strasburg played three mid-December road games at Stonewall Jackson High School on Dec. 11, in Rappahannock County on Dec. 15 and at Moorefield, West Virginia, on Dec. 19.

The parents of at least one of the students involved in the incident has hired an attorney. Attorney David Silek described the case as one in a long series of incidents combining sexual misconduct with loaded racial language that have been plaguing the high school football and boys basketball teams for years.

Silek said his client, a senior on the basketball team, has been suspended from school as a result of his alleged participation in the incident. Silek said he intends to file a lawsuit in federal court after he failed in attempts to get school administrators to lift the suspension and “erase” the incident from his client’s record.

Silek said his client reported being a victim of sexual abuse as a sophomore athlete.

“For years, there’s been something called ‘lynching’ among athletes at Strasburg High School,” Silek said. “Basically, they grabbed someone and tussed around with someone. My client, who has been a victim of ‘lynching,’ is black. Just how do you think that makes a black kid feel?”

Silek said his client told him of five “lynching” incidents this academic year, three of them during football season and two since the start of basketball.

Silek said his client told him victims and assailants trade roles. A victim in one case may be an assailant in another and vice versa, but a pattern of discriminatory discipline has emerged. Black players are suspended for their actions while white players are allowed to remain in school after engaging in the same misconduct, Silek said.

The victim in the incident under investigation is white, Silek said.

“I find it remarkable they suspend black kids, but not white kids when they’re engaged in the exact same behavior,” Silek said. “In fact, I think it’s just plain racist.”

Silek said school officials had refused his demand to allow his client to return to school and remove the incident from school records. He said the lawsuit will accuse the school system of violating civil rights law and “failure to provide equal protection under the law.”

Silek said a conversation with an attorney representing the school also went nowhere.

“It’s very unfortunate that someone has decided it’s better for the taxpayers of Shenandoah County to pay for this racist behavior than put a young man back in school,” Silek said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com