Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Mead School District responds to alleged football player assaults at last summer’s camp

Members of the Mead football team are suspected of assaulting teammates during a camp at Eastern Washington University last summer.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

A group of Mead High School football players restrained two teammates and applied a “massage gun” to their private parts last year at an Eastern Washington University-hosted football camp, according to an investigation by the Mead School District.

The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office also investigated and recommended misdemeanor fourth-degree assault charges be filed against a few players, said Cpl. Mark Gregory, sheriff’s office spokesman. The status of the cases was unclear and the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office could not be reached for comment Friday.

Marcus Sweetser, trial attorney at Sweetser Law Office in Spokane, is representing three victims and their families, including one victim who came forward this week. Sweetser said he has not yet filed a lawsuit against the school district and is still collecting evidence.

He said a large focus of his complaint is the several-month period that elapsed from the time a parent notified Mead officials about the alleged assaults to when parents were notified of the camp incidents.

“These incidents should have never happened in the first place,” Sweetser wrote in a statement on behalf of the victims’ families. “Mead has allowed a permissive culture of hazing in their athletic programs. Sexual assault is a known cause of permanent psychological harm. When Mead knew about the incidents last year, the right thing to do would have been to inform the parents. The worst thing Mead could do is sweep it under the rug which only perpetuates the culture and endangers all the students. These repeated assaults were preventable. The victims’ families are asking that Mead be held accountable.”

Sweetser said one of his clients left the high school, and another victim plans to leave the state because of the families’ concerns the district did not resolve the issues properly.

In a letter Wednesday to district parents from school district superintendent Travis Hanson, Mead High Principal Kimberly Jensen and head football coach Keith Stamps, district officials said the past few months have been challenging as building administrators worked with district officials and coaches to investigate and address the “serious incidents” at the football camp.

“This communication is not intended to summarize the district’s lengthy investigation into incidents at team camp,” the letter said. “However, we do believe it’s important to share that a significant number of student/athletes took part (both directly and indirectly) in inappropriate and offensive behavior that involved elements of hazing, including acts of intimidation and targeted harassment. Details about what happened at team camp came in bits and pieces over an inordinately long period of time, and ultimately, the severity of what took place last summer was fully realized at a time months removed from the actual incidents.”

An investigation by the school district determined about 15 players were in an EWU dorm room, where the players stayed during the four-day camp, on June 20 during an afternoon break from on-field play when four of the boys took the victim to the ground and restrained him. A fifth player, holding a pulsating massage gun, applied the massage gun in the general area of the victim’s privates.

Many people are in the way of the video, so it’s difficult to see where the massage gun touches, according to the investigation. The gun appeared to be on the victim’s body for about 6 seconds.

The victim said it’s possible he’d been targeted because he had been drinking from another player’s water bottle and that “he was pissed at me,” the report says. The victim said he believed he was not well liked and that others on the team told him he was “annoying.”

He said the same person who he mentioned being involved in the water bottle issue told him prior to the camp that he’d better hope they’re not in the same room at camp or he would “rape” him, according to the report. The victim said he didn’t believe the word “rape” was used in a literal sense.

On the third day of camp, many of the same involved in the first incident forced their way into a dorm room and restrained the second victim. When the video begins, four players are seen holding the victim down as another young man, wearing a mask and holding a massage gun, announced to those in the room they are about to perform the “sacrifice of all sacrifices.”

The player holding the massage gun approached the victim, who was being held down with his legs spread apart, and placed the massage gun into the victim’s private areas for about 11 seconds, according to the report.

“Looking at the video evidence, each incident depicts many of the typical characteristics of hazing/(harassment, intimidation or bullying) behaviors; however, given the area of the body targeted, each of the incidents may represent sexual harassment assault,” the investigation determined.

Each of the two victims was an incoming sophomore, while all the players involved in the assault were upperclassmen. None of the students interviewed believed they were carrying out any type of team tradition or initiation ritual.

No issues were reported until July 5 when Mead athletic director John Barrington received an email from a Mead High parent saying their child had a video showing “potential assaultive behavior” by players at the university’s dormitories, the investigation said.

The parent shared “massage gun tools” were used in an assault on one of the players. The video clips attached to the email showed about 10 or 12 players in a dorm room and depicts laughing, shouting and something resembling a “dogpile” on a person. It was difficult to determine what was happening aside from “horseplay and/or roughhousing,” according to the investigation.

Barrington and Stamps decided Stamps should speak with some of the players identified in the video.

Those interviewed, including the student identified as having been targeted, said they were “screwing around” and “roughhousing.” The targeted student said things were “all good” with his teammates and that he’d “had a good time” at camp.

Sweetser said the victim confided in the football coach about the assaults and did not say things were “all good” and he “had a good time.” 

Sweetser said the school district’s investigation findings do not reflect the conversation that took place. 

Stamps and Barrington did not contact parents of the involved athletes, nor did they inform Mead administrators about the email and video, according to the investigation.

In November, a parent of a player approached Stamps with concerns about the video, and the two met in December when the parent showed Stamps two videos. That’s when Stamps learned there were two incidents at the camp.

The videos presented a clearer perspective of what happened, the investigation said.

Stamps expressed concern to Barrington Dec. 11 regarding the video, saying it “may be bigger than they’d thought” back in July. The two shared the information with Jensen.

Jensen received an email Jan. 19 from another concerned parent asking questions about the camp incident. The email prompted Jensen to reach out to district administrators Jan. 22.

Jensen started to seek copies of the videos shown to Stamps. She had not seen any of the videos, and Barrington did not inform her a parent had sent him videos in July.

Jensen obtained copies of the videos Feb. 20, viewed them and informed Mead High School’s resource deputy Mitch Othmer. She also provided videos to him.

Jensen and Othmer reached out to parents of the victims and scheduled an interview with the student assaulted in the first incident.

The parents of the student involved in the second incident did not consent for their son to be interviewed and did not participate in the investigative process, according to the investigation.

Sweetser disputed that as well. He said the parents of the victim consented to their son speaking to the school counselor. They then went down after school to view the videos at a meeting with Jensen, but the doors were locked and no one let them into the building.

After trying to contact the principal for 15 minutes, they left, Sweetser said.

He said the district’s summary does not accurately reflect what occurred and omits significant context and information. 

District officials interviewed students identified in the videos, Barrington, Stamps, assistant football coach Jerrod Thomas and Jensen, the investigation said. The district’s Title IX coordinator, Josh Westermann, eventually directed all investigative efforts.

The victim of the first assault told Jensen and Othmer he did not believe the incident was sexual in nature and he had not been penetrated.

The school district’s letter said this has been a complex situation to navigate, and it’s important it acknowledged the toll it took on students and families.

“Mead’s football program seeks to mold and shape young men who understand that attending to excellence in the little things is a big thing, who buy into the team concept, and who treat others with dignity and respect,” the letter said. “What took place at team camp violated those values and building administrators dealt with conduct violations in accordance with Mead’s policies and procedures related to student misconduct.”

Parents of current and future members of the football program are invited at 6:30 p.m. May 13 at the high school’s theater to review the district’s investigation and “put a few rumors to rest.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated on May 4, 2024, to include additional information provided by the victims’ attorney, Marcus Sweetser.