The parent of a Glacier High School wrestler has alleged that Kalispell Public Schools (KPS) administrators and athletics officials failed to address the sexual assault of her son and permitted a culture of hazing and violence within the high school wrestling team, per a lawsuit filed in federal court on Oct. 23.
According to the lawsuit, which was first reported by the Daily Montanan, KPS administrators and officials with the Glacier High School wrestling team permitted “a culture and ‘traditions’ of hazing and assault,” failed to provide supportive measures to a student victim and were negligent in delivering training to staff and supervising the activities of the wrestling team amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
The defendants listed in the lawsuit are Kalispell School District #5 (KPS), Glacier High School, former KPS Superintendent Micah Hill, wrestling coach Ross Dankers, Glacier High School athletics director Mark Dennehy, KPS Title IX coordinator Sara Cole, wrestlers Teegan Vasquez and Joshua Melton and volunteer assistant wrestling coach Rich Vasquez, who is Teegan’s father.
The alleging parent, who is listed as the plaintiff on behalf of her teenage son, has asked for a jury trial and $650,000 in damages.
The plaintiff alleges that her son, a then 15-year-old wrestler at Glacier High School, observed older wrestlers sexually assault another teammate in a motel room during an overnight trip to Billings in February 2022. The next day, older athletes allegedly sexually assaulted the plaintiff’s son on the bus ride home to Kalispell.
After his assault, the plaintiff’s son spoke with Cole, the school district’s Title IX coordinator, who reportedly took actions “aimed at minimizing what had happened” to the student. Cole allegedly directed the student to send her a video that he had recorded of a prior sexual assault of a teammate by older wrestlers. According to the lawsuit, after the student sent Cole the video, he was accused of showing the video to others, which he was told is a crime.
Defendants “knew about the ‘tradition’ of the upper class wrestlers hazing and sexually assaulting the younger wrestlers. They did nothing to specifically address this ‘tradition.’ And then when the sexual assault of [the student] surfaced they showed him no empathy and treated him as a lying criminal,” the lawsuit reads.
Hill, KPS Interim Superintendent Randy Cline and school board chair Heather Asher did not respond to request for comment.
Attorney John C. Doubek, of Doubek, Pyfer and Storrar, a Helena law firm, filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Missoula.
The lawsuit marks the latest development in a flurry of misconduct allegations directed at KPS and the Glacier High School wrestling program.
The Kalispell Police Department and KPS in January received reports of alleged hazing and sexual assault by members of the wrestling team. In a cease and desist letter sent to KPS administrators at the time, Kalispell attorney Michael Bliven described a pattern of “sexual and other assaults … against members of the Glacier High School wrestling team in the alleged name of ‘tradition’” and stated that “rather than investigating and stopping such assaults, there apparently has been a conspiracy to cover it up, and to retaliate against whistleblowers.”
Hill told the Beacon in February that two members of the wrestling team had been suspended from extracurricular activities and one other student had received other disciplinary actions following an internal investigation by the district.
The Kalispell Police Department opened an independent investigation into an alleged sexual assault after receiving a report on Jan. 9, but referred the matter to law enforcement in Yellowstone County, where the incident purportedly took place, according to Investigations Capt. Ryan Bartholomew.
There are currently two pending federal Title IX investigations into KPS, both of which were opened on April 11, 2023. One investigation regards sexual violence and the other regards retaliation.
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