See video of Editor Gerry L. Dickert's appearance on Headline News' "Issues With Jane Velez-Mitchell"
By GERRY L. DICKERT
Two national television networks and a broadly-distributed women’s magazine sent their audiences clamboring for their telephones and email as the story of a court case involving a local assault case spread across the U.S. this week.
FOX News and HLN, an affiliate of CNN, broadcast the news of a decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in September that supported the decision of Silsbee High School to remove a cheerleader from its varsity squad after she refused to cheer for a basketball player she had accused of sexual assault.
With the encouragement of the two national television presentations as well as an article by Ms. Magazine, people from across the nation have called and emailed Silsbee ISD Superintendent Richard Bain Jr. and current high school principal Eldon Franco.
In fact, at least one person sent an unsigned email to Franco of a threatening nature, according to Bain. Franco was not principal at Silsbee High School when the incident originally took place. In fact, all actors in the case had graduated or left school by the time Franco took over the position of principal. The threatening email has been turned over to the Silsbee Police Department.
From one website: “Bolton was set to be on the school's varsity basketball team, and they couldn't risk losing by barring him from playing for a silly thing like a rape charge. That could impact their chances at winning. Who cares about the traumatic impact it would have an a cheerleader who needed to vocally support a team including her rapist?”
And from another: “There is something very wrong when an adult can rape a girl, cut a deal and return as if nothing happened while the victim has to quit or cheer her assailant on or face dismissal. They appealed and lost in court! What does this say about how much we value our females? What message does this send to our males and females?”
According to Bain, “Most of (the phone calls are) apparently from other states and contain the same inaccurate information; for example, that the students are still enrolled here.”
The national outrage stems in part from incomplete information being published and broadcast by television, web blogs and magazines.
Many published reports claim the cheerleader was forced to cheer for a many who had been indicted in her rape. Other reports claim the victim in this case was told not to attend homecoming festivities or go into the school’s cafeteria after the initial assault was reported.
The case that went before the appellate court focused on whether the school district had infringed on the cheerleader’s First Amendment right to free speech in choosing to not cheer for Bolton during a basketball game.
The opinion from the court stated the school district had no duty to promote the cheerleader's message by allowing her to cheer or not cheer as she saw fit,
From the court’s opinion, “In her capacity as cheerleader, XX served as a mouthpiece through which SISD could disseminate speech))namely, support for its athletic teams. Insofar as the First Amendment does not require schools to promote particular student speech, SISD had no duty to promote XX’s message by allowing her to cheer or not cheer, as she saw fit. Moreover, this act constituted substantial interference with the work of the school because, as a cheerleader, XX was at the basketball game for the purpose of cheering, a position she undertook voluntarily. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s dismissal of Appellants’ First Amendment claim.”
Because an additional appeal is reportedly underway, administrators with the Silsbee ISD were generally unable to comment further on the issue.
• • •
The federal appeals court decision stems from the original incident in October 2008 when a then-16-year-old cheerleader claimed she was sexually assaulted during a house party.
Over the next two days, three arrests were made, including that of 17-year-old Rahkeem Bolton, 18-year-old Christian Rountree and a 16-year-old minor.
About three months later, a Hardin County grand jury returned a no-bill decision against the three young men and they were allowed to return to classes at Silsbee High School.
During the time after their arrest and before the no-bill decision, the students had been attending classes at the district’s alternative education facility. They were not allowed on any other school property.
After the no-bill decision, Bolton returned to classes and joined the school’s varsity basketball team.
During a playoff game in Huntsville, Bolton went to the free-throw line. The cheerleader refused to cheer, reportedly sitting on the floor with her back to the court.
A small skirmish among parents reportedly took place in the bleachers, though no one was injured or arrested.
It is decided by high school administrators that the cheerleader would have to cheer equally for all players or she would not be allowed to be part of the cheer squad.
She was eventually removed from the squad by the athletic director and cheer coach. The father filed a grievance with the school board and within a week and a half, the cheerleader was reinstated to the cheer team.
In May 2009, though, the cheerleader’s father filed a lawsuit against members of the Silsbee ISD staff as well as the Hardin County district attorney, David Sheffield.
That case is dismissed by a federal judge in October 2009 but because Sheffield is named in the suit, he recuses himself from further participation in the case. The cheerleader’s father files a second civil suit against Rountree and Bolton, less than a week after the first civil suit is dismissed.
In November 2009, a new grand jury asks to hear information about the sexual assault claims and a special prosecutor is named.
On Nov. 24, the new grand jury returns an indictment against Bolton and Rountree on charges of sexual assault of a child.
Bolton has since plead guilty to a lesser charge of Class A misdemeanor assault. He received two years’ probation and a $2,500 fine. That plea deal was reportedly signed off on by the cheerleader’s family before it was accepted.
Rountree has not yet gone to court on the felony charge of sexual assault of a child. He remains free on a $250,000 bond.