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MANTI — A high school football player has been ordered to move in with his grandparents in St. George and complete therapy for sexually assaulting several classmates, many of them his teammates.
A judge issued the order Tuesday after at times tearful statements from seven young victims and their families. Several of the students said they no longer get any joy from the sports they used to love and have struggled in school in the wake of the assaults.
Sixth District Juvenile Judge Brody Keisel said he was concerned by a lack of empathy from the 16-year-old Gunnison Valley High student and will weigh his progress at a hearing in three months, possibly ordering him into the state's custody if he doesn't improve.
“If we don’t see some significant risk reduction in 90 days, that’s where you’re headed," the judge said. The teen nodded in response.
Police first began investigating in September when a 14-year-old boy reported that two teammates held him down one day before football practice while the 16-year-old athlete rubbed his genitals on the boy's face.
The boy, whom KSL has chosen not to name at this time, was originally charged with six counts of object rape, a first-degree felony, and five counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony.
In September, police began investigating what they believed was a report of hazing but found it went further than that. By October, more than a dozen students came forward saying they had also been assaulted by the teenager, prosecutors said.
Last month, as part of the plea deal, he admitted to eight counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony. Prosecutors have said the agreement balances justice for the victims with mercy for the teen.
Two of his teammates accused of participating in a Sept. 17 incident, ages 14 and 15, were each charged with helping the teen carry out the assault. They are scheduled to be sentenced next month.
In October, the mother of the junior varsity football player filed a civil lawsuit in federal court against the South Sanpete School District, contending administrators had not done enough to stop ongoing abuse at the high school over the years and instead dismissed it with a "boys being boys" attitude.
Attorneys for the district have argued in court documents that players didn't tell coaches that day. After administrators learned of the allegation, they offered services to the victim and warned students not to retaliate, court documents state.
Some on Tuesday testified to the division that the case has sown in Gunnison, home to about 3,300. Police have said they hope the resolution will allow the community to move on.
The judge also ordered the teenager to complete 288 hours of community service.