A federal lawsuit filed earlier this year that centers on Huntsville middle school basketball players’ reports of a culture of sexual assault snowballed Friday, when an attorney filed a new complaint that the school district and school board withheld information about the incidents.
The case stems from allegations “that younger teammates were ‘baptized,’ an act in which players would restrain a victim while other players undressed and placed their bare genitals in or on the restrained players’ faces,” according to court documents.
Fort Smith Attorney Joey McCutchen, who represents plaintiffs Benjamin Rightsell and Rebecca Nelle in the case, offered a more in-depth explanation of the alleged assaults at the core of the case.
“The sexual assaults involved members of the ninth-grade boys’ basketball team engaging in what was called ‘baptism’ and ‘bean-dipping. ‘Baptism’ refers to basketball players restraining other students while other players placed their genitals on or in the faces of the restrained students. ‘Bean-dipping’ refers to a student forcibly placing their rectum and anus on the face and particularly on the nose of another. Several children were repeatedly sexually assaulted, with at least one student being abused fourteen times,” McCutchen said in a press release.
In an amended complaint filed Friday, McCutchen said the Huntsville School District and Huntsville Public Schools Board of Education violated the state’s public information law repeatedly. In addition to failing to give notice to the media of a hearing to consider disciplinary action against students accused of the assaults, the district also failed to comply with Freedom of Information requests for related documents, even those without any names or identifying characteristics, he said.
The district did supply lots of documents to the Madison County Record, which has been all over this story from the beginning. You’ll need a subscription to read their coverage, though.
Huntsville school administrators referred us to their attorney, Charles Harwell, who was not immediately available for comment Friday afternoon. We will update this post when we hear back. Harwell has previously argued that sharing documents and information would result in additional humiliation and exposure for the victims.