Town hall meeting planned on "statewide impact" of Dietrich High assault

Posted at 10:31 AM, Mar 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-07 13:06:14-05

A number of Idaho advocacy organizations are planning a town hall meeting to share what they call the statewide impact of the Dietrich High assault case.

The Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, the Idaho State Independent Living Council, the Idaho Council on Developmental Disability, DisAbility Rights Idaho, Idaho Parents Unlimited, Idaho Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, and the ACLU of Idaho will be convening the town hall on April 25th to focus on the “impact of the discrimination, hate, and violence that occurred in Dietrich High School and subsequent criminal justice system response, and to begin to work together to create communities and schools where everyone is valued and safe,” according Kelly Miller, Executive Director of the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.

Prior to the town hall, the organizational conveners will collect stories from around the state on the impact of the Dietrich case and suggestions for concrete solutions, all of which will be compiled into a document to share with governmental stakeholders, Miller explained in a news release.

John R. K. Howard of Dietrich, a white high school player, was originally charged by the Idaho Attorney General with “forcible sexual penetration by use of a foreign object” for kicking a coat hanger into the rectum of a black high school football player with a disability.

Last December, the Deputy Attorney General amended the charge to “felony injury to a child” and offered Howard an Alford plea and recommended three years of probation. Judge Randy Stoker accepted the plea agreement and sentenced Howard to 300 hours of community service and three years of probation.

At the December court hearing, the Deputy Attorney General said that the act itself was “not a sex crime.” The Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence disagrees. Miller said. “The Office of the Attorney General originally charged the defendant with a sex crime and we believe it was a sex crime,” Miller stated. “The failure to acknowledge Howard’s actions as a sex crime sends the wrong message to the community that sex crimes are about sexual desire, when they are almost exclusively about domination, extraction, and violence.”

The Deputy Attorney General also stated that it “was not a racially-motivated crime,” despite a history of racial slurs against the black student.

“In addition to the racial slurs, the sentence is illustrative of the significant racial disparities in sentencing decisions in the United States, which result from disparate treatment of blacks at every stage of the criminal justice system, and are consistent with a larger pattern of racial disparities that plague our country,” said Miller.

“Unfortunately, this case and the statements made created fear and concern among families with children with disabilities, and (have) shaken our belief in the ability of our schools to create environments where children are safe,” said Christine Pisani with the Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities.

The conveners of the town hall “will invite the Office of the Attorney General, the State Department of Education, and other state-level governmental leaders to attend and listen to the concerns of effected community members who believe that public recognition and acknowledgement of the harms experienced by the Black community, the disability community, and sexual assault survivors is necessary in order to begin the work towards creating schools and communities where everyone is valued and safe. Senator Cherie Buckner-Webb and Representative Melissa Wintrow will facilitate the conversations from the impacted communities,” Miller pointed out.

“From this community conversation, we will share the impact the Dietrich case has had across the disability, Black and anti-violence communities in Idaho and across the country, and identify ways to create communities where everyone is valued and everyone is safe, where our schools teach acceptance and our, and the criminal justice system embodies community values of accountability and justice,” she added.

“We want to rebuild the confidence we need in our state’s educational and criminal justice systems.  We want everyone to understand that no one is expendable, that this young man who was so brutally violated matters,” said State Senator Cherie Buckner-Webb.

Organizers have not yet determined a time and location for the April 25th meeting.