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The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee)
KNOXVILLE - Two former Sevier County High School basketball players are fighting to re-enroll and rejoin the team after the dismissal of aggravated rape charges filed against them amid controversy over a violent hazing by members of another basketball team.
Attorneys Patrick Looper and Patrick Slaughter have filed legal action in U.S. District Court on behalf of two high school juniors who were charged with aggravated rape last year in what court records suggest was an act of horseplay against another SCHS male student that netted the alleged victim no serious injuries.
The charges came as another rape case involving high school basketball players from Ooltewah, Tenn., was garnering headlines across the nation. The charges were quietly dropped just three months after the SCHS players were kicked out of school and off the team.
The details of the incident between the SCHS players and the alleged victim, who is not identified in any pleadings, remain largely hidden. But a transcript filed in the federal case shows the special judge who presided over the players' case concluded it was horseplay run amok.
"I don't think there was any malice intent ... you all had suffered for the bad choice that was made," Special Judge Kenneth Bailey Jr. said as he approved the dismissal of the rape charges.
That transcript shows Sevier County prosecutor Rolfe Straussfogel and Brian Delius, who was representing the two boys in the criminal case, appeared before Bailey in December and announced the charges were being dropped.
He made no such statement at the secret December hearing. Bailey acknowledged the presence of the alleged victim and his parents at the hearing and lauded them for being cooperative with the state.
Part of the deal, though, was that the boys would agree to stay away from the alleged victim and to walk away from their studies and team at SCHS, the transcript showed. The Sevier County Board of Education had agreed to allow the boys to enroll at one of the county's other high schools.
Bailey later ordered all records in the case expunged. The players, through their parents, then sought to re-enroll at SCHS, where the victim was still a student.
School officials refused the request. Attorneys Looper and Slaughter filed the federal action against the Sevier County Board of Education and Superintendent Jack Parton in February to force the system to let the boys back in school and on the SCHS team.
As soon as prosecutor Straussfogel heard about the lawsuit, court records show, he told Looper he wanted a signed restraining order barring the boys from re-enrolling at SCHS.Attorney Chris McCarty, who represents the school system, fired back that the boys and their parents were trying to have their "cake and eat it, too" - agreeing not to re-enroll at SCHS as part of the dismissal of the charges against them and then suing to re-enroll.
Senior Judge Leon Jordan has already held one hearing and has set another one in May. McCarty tried to persuade Jordan to hide records about the juvenile case from the public and to hold hearings in secret, according to federal court records. Jordan refused.
The SCHS players were arrested in the September incident at the same time controversy was swirling around a violent hazing in December 2015 of a freshman Ooltewah basketball player by three older teammates at a cabin in Gatlinburg where the Ooltewah High School team was staying during a tournament. The victim in that case required emergency surgery after older teammates held him down and assaulted him with a pool cue.
Those players were convicted around the same time as the SCHS players' arrest. By then, though, the Ooltewah case was mired in a high-profile controversy over the inaction of that school's coaching staff and administrators and a perjury charge filed against a Gatlinburg detective.
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