SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — It was about 17 years ago when the state was focused on allegations of rape and sexual assault involving a wrestling team in Parker.
On August 3 of this year, the Pennington County States Attorney filed rape charges against six members of the Mitchell Legion baseball team. The players are accused of raping two victims during the first week in June in Rapid City when the team was in town for a tournament.
The two cases have similarities in that they involve more than one victim and multiple counts of abuse or attempted abuse.
With the Mitchell Legion baseball case, in addition to the six players charged in adult court, there are three juveniles facing charges in juvenile court. The charges have not been disclosed.
The case in Parker involved one defendant.
Jerome Hunt was 16 when he was charged with 21 counts of rape and attempted rape in 2006. In 2007, a judge found Hunt guilty on seven counts of attempted rape of wrestlers in the high school program at Parker. He was sentenced to probation. Hunt appealed but the South Dakota State Court upheld the ruling in 2008 and stated, “an attempted rape may be committed even if the perpetrator had no sexual purpose.”
Reports of allegations of sexual abuse by student athletes, include assaults on fellow players is not new. The Associated Press investigated five years of reports of student on student sexual assault and released its findings in 2017.
“Mischaracterized as hazing and bullying, the violence is so normalized on some teams that it persists for years, as players attacked one season become aggressors the next,” The Associated Press said in 2017.
In 2006, Tiffani Landeen, a lawyer in Sioux Falls and a Lincoln County Commissioner, was a prosecutor in the Hunt case.
“The challenge as a prosecutor is you don’t want to wrongly accuse someone of something,” Landeen said.
Landeen said there were difficult decisions to be made during the 2006 case. The recent rape and sexual assault charges filed against six members of the Mitchell Legion Baseball team prompted some “feelings of deja vu,” she said.
The 2006 case in Parker “was very divisive in the community,” Landeen said. Parker is a small town, but so is Mitchell, Landeen said.
There’s a distinct possibility the baseball case will be divisive in Mitchell, Landeen said.
No formal arguments have been made yet for the defendants in the Mitchell Legion baseball case.
Hunt’s lawyer Mike Butler said in 2006 that the charges against his client were exaggerated and not appropriate.
“When anybody thinks of what rape is, I want to ask anybody if they envision the notion of a kid in the wrestling room with wrestling gear on. When someone puts a wrestling move on and says, ‘Their finger went in my butt,’ is that what you all think of when you think of rape?” Butler said in 2006. Butler’s comments were included in a KELOLAND News story.
On June 29, the Mitchell Baseball Association announced Mitchell Post 18’s varsity Legion baseball program was suspended in the wake of what Mitchell Baseball Association President Jason Christensen says is “possible player misconduct.”
“Although many of the cases AP identified included anal penetration, grabbing crotches or grinding genitals into teammates, those who often first learn of incidents — coaches, school officials — routinely characterize them as hazing, bullying or initiations,” the AP said in a May 23, 2017, story.
“Teen athletes are not only at risk of perpetrating sexual violence — they are also at risk of being sexually violated,” Prevent Connect said on its website. It cited a 2020 study “Team Sports and Sexual Violence: Examining Perpetration by and Victimization of Adolescent Males and Females.” The study concluded “Our research with adolescents supports earlier research on college students which shows athletes are at a higher risk for committing and experiencing acts of sexual aggression.” The study cited five other studies.
“The Spectrum of Hazing and Peer Sexual Abuse in Sports: A Current Perspective” published in 2018 said “While the exact incidence of sexual misconduct in sports is difficult to determine, it is estimated that anywhere from 2% to 48% of athletes will experience some kind of sexual maltreatment.” The research cited incidents in 2015 and 2017 as some examples.
Pennington County states attorney Lara Roetzel made a clear distinction between hazing and the alleged acts by the accused Mitchell Legion baseball players.
“This is not hazing, and this was not an initiation ritual,” Roetzel said in an interview with KELOLAND News on Aug. 3. “It’s been wildly reported as that, and this was allegedly a sexual assault and a forcible sexual assault, and I hope that the Mitchell community and the state can stop characterizing it as a, as hazing. It just really undermines the seriousness of what happened in that situation.”
The Hunt case was moved to juvenile court after the charges had been filed in adult court.
“We felt it was in the best interest of the case. That this wasn’t getting tried in the court of public opinion, and that a judge would hear the case and apply the law to the facts,” Landeen said.
KELOLAND News attempted to reach Butler for this story but was informed he would not be able to comment.