KSL Investigates: Was sexting ring at Union High School properly investigated?

By Mike Headrick and Tania Dean, KSL TV | Posted - Nov. 20, 2018 at 7:48 a.m.

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ROOSEVELT — On April 18, Roosevelt police were called to investigate an alleged sexting ring involving students at Union High School. Police records show at least 27 people were reported to be involved, including suspects and victims.

When months passed with no charges filed and zero repercussions, the KSL Investigators decided to find out why.

Community frustration

“I’m contacting you regarding the teenage sexting ring in Roosevelt, Utah. It seems nothing is being done about it by authorities and as a parent of a daughter who was solicited for sex and pictures. I am outraged.”

That was a message texted to the KSL Investigators in June, two months after the initial police report. It started what would be a lengthy process of attempting to get answers in the case.

Even students at Union High didn’t quite know the whole truth; although rumors seemed to be everywhere.

“It was a whole ring, it was the whole school, everyone was affected, no matter if you were directly involved or not,” said Shyanne Spencer, a senior at Union High, about the investigation involving her classmates.

Spencer told KSL about some of the allegations and expressed her own frustration that nothing was being done by authorities.

Police investigation

An eight-page report by Roosevelt police details the 18 suspects allegedly involved, and the nine girls listed as victims.

According to the report, this is how the ring operated:

  • Male students solicited female students for nude images.
  • Once a photo or video was sent to one person, it was shared with everyone who was part of an alleged Snapchat group.
  • Police records show in order to be part of the Snapchat group, “someone must exchange a nude image of a person they know.”

Details in the police report are disturbing.

In one case, documents show a 17-year-old boy confessed to video recording sex acts with a 16-year-old girl and then “posted it on a Snapchat forum for other male members to view.” The underage girl told police she “never consented to these sex acts being filmed and did not consent to the videos being posted.”

More than one victim reported getting messages asking to have sex. Another said she was asked for nude images on a daily basis. One victim reported she received a pornographic video of someone masturbating, with a request she send a pornographic video in return.

Victims also reported being “badgered,” “humiliated,” “degraded,” and some said they reluctantly sent nude photos of themselves to boys.

Those were the ones willing to tell their stories to police, which is something sex abuse counselors said is hard for victims to do.

“There are a ton of reasons someone might not want to speak out,” said Darrah Jones, a victim survivor advocate at the University of Utah. “I think definitely the core of it is fear of not being believed.”

Trying to get answers

More than 6 months after the police investigation began, the Duchesne County Attorney’s Office still has not prosecuted a single boy. One reason, according to county attorney Stephen Foote, is that police never gave them a final report.

When asked if police were not doing their job, he answered: “I think they’ve tried to do their job at some points. At some points some things have not been done well, I’ll admit that. Originally, the phones probably should have been seized upon their initial finding out about the case. They weren’t. There were some that were seized later in the game, but too late to find anything on them.”

Mike Headrick interviews Duchesne County Attorney Stephen Foote Monday, Nov. 19, 2018. Photo: KSL TV

A supplemental report from Rick Harrison, the police chief in Roosevelt, said eventually five phones were taken as evidence from the alleged 28 teens involved. That means 80 percent of potential evidence was never even looked at.

Anthony Wilcox, a deputy county attorney who works juvenile cases in Foote’s office, said by the time phones were confiscated by police, which was after being asked by the county attorney’s office and weeks after the initial report, it was too late.

“If the evidence no longer exists, then it’ll make it hard to proceed with the case,” said Wilcox.

Wilcox said he told police to investigate further, but that was 5 months ago. Since then, he said he has seen no more searching for evidence, no more interviewing suspects and no more testimony from victims. On paper, it appears police have done nothing.

After months of trying to get answers from Chief Harrison, the KSL Investigators never got replies to multiple emails or phone messages, so they traveled 143 miles to Roosevelt, walked into the police station and asked for him.

After waiting in the lobby for 30 minutes, a Roosevelt police officer finally came out and informed the KSL Investigators that Harrison was no longer at the station. The officer said he did not know when the chief left.

Roosevelt Police Chief Rick Harrison is seen on surveillance video on Oct. 4, 2018. Photo: Surveillance via KSL TV

Through an open records request, the KSL Investigators obtained surveillance video from all 12 cameras throughout the police station from that time period. The video shows that 7 minutes after they showed up asking for the chief, Harrison is seen hurrying down the hallway, out the back door and driving off in his truck.

Conflict of interest?

While the chief appears to be hiding from questions, the county attorney appeared to be irritated by them, especially when it came to a potential conflict of interest with his office handling the case.

Three times when asked about a possible conflict, which is one of the allegations circulating through the small town, Foote replied, “There could be.”

His deputy, Wilcox, was more forthcoming. “It was pretty early in the process that our office decided that we would have a conflict,” said Wilcox.

“That could be family members, friends, close relatives (to someone in the office), something like that?” Headrick asked.

“That’s correct,” Wilcox said.

“If there was a conflict of interest within the office, was there any thought of brushing that under the rug?” Headrick asked.

“I’m aware that’s what it looks like,” Wilcox said, “so that’s part of the reason why I’m so frustrated that it’s taken so long, so it has that appearance.”

“I’m not going to talk about any conflicts,” Foote said. “I’m not going to talk about anybody’s issues, any parent’s child. I’m not talking about any of those things. It’s not going to be said. It’s not going to be answered.”

They're not going to be answered, and at least so far, they're not going to be prosecuted.

In a town of roughly 7,000 people, stories travel and they travel fast. Months after KSL started asking questions, the details of the investigation have now been turned over to the state attorney general’s office. Their investigators will now review the case and all the evidence. It could be months before the 27 teenagers involved in the case know the outcome.

But with so little phone evidence gathered in the initial investigation, it’s difficult to determine whether the nine victims will ever get justice.

“It does ruin people’s lives,” Spencer said. “It was huge.”

“That’s why it is so critically important to believe people when they disclose to you and to understand how to have a compassionate response that does not further traumatize them, but that helps them feel supported,” Jones said. “In those ways you can help somebody seek healing and justice.”

Mike Headrick
Tania Dean

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