COLUMBUS, Ohio — A city reeling from the convictions of two high school football players in the rape of a 16-year-old girl will back a wide-ranging probe that could target adults, including coaches, who didn’t initially report the allegations, the city’s top official said Monday.
Residents of Steubenville want to see justice done, and the city will be better off going forward because of the investigation, city manager Cathy Davison said.
“Football is important in Steubenville, but I think overall if you looked at the community in and of itself, it’s the education process, the moral fiber of our community, and the heritage of our community, that is even more important,” Davison told The Associated Press in her first comments since a judge on Sunday convicted the players.
The announcement of the guilty verdict was barely an hour old Sunday when state Attorney General Mike DeWine said he was continuing his investigation and would consider charges against anyone who failed to speak up after the summertime attack. That group could include other teens, parents, school officials and coaches for the high school’s beloved football team, which has won nine state championships.
Investigators interviewed the owners of a Steubenville house where a picture was taken of the girl being carried by her ankles and wrists, DeWine’s office confirmed Monday. That picture, Exhibit No. 1 at the trial, generated international outrage.
The house is the same residence where later that night one student filmed a 12-minute video of another drunken student laughing and joking about the rape. There is no phone listing for the home.
A grand jury will meet in mid-April to consider evidence gathered by investigators from dozens of interviews, including with the football team’s 27 coaches.
Text messages introduced at the trial suggested the head coach was aware of the rape allegation early on. Reno Saccoccia “took care of it,” defendant Trenton Mays said in one text introduced by prosecutors.
DeWine said coaches are among officials required by state law to report suspected child abuse.
The attorney general, Ohio’s top law enforcement official, also said the rape was not an isolated problem specific to Steubenville. Sexual assaults occur every Friday and Saturday night across the country, DeWine said, calling it “a societal problem.”
Steubenville schools Superintendent Mike McVey released a statement Monday reiterating his position that the district was waiting until the trial ended to take action. He declined to address the grand jury investigation.
“What we’ve heard so far is deeply disturbing,” McVey’s statement said. “At this time, we believe it is important to allow the legal process to play out in court before we as a school district make any decisions or take action against any of the individuals involved with this case.”
It’s unclear what could happen to the school’s sports programs if any coaches were to be charged. Sanctions against teams or programs typically involve violations of rules related to playing, such as improper recruiting of student-athletes or playing ineligible athletes, said Tim Stried, spokesman for the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
“The incident that happened was not during a contest, was not even at school. No playing rules were violated, and it didn’t have anything to do with eligibility or recruiting,” Stried said.
Mays, 17, and Ma’Lik Richmond, 16, were sentenced to at least a year in juvenile prison in a case that has rocked this Rust Belt city of 18,000 and led to allegations of a cover-up to protect the Steubenville High School football team. Mays was ordered to serve an additional year for photographing the underage girl naked.
They can be held until they turn 21.
The two broke down in tears after the judge delivered his verdict. They later apologized to the victim and the community, Richmond struggling to speak through his sobs.
“My life is over,” he said as he collapsed in the arms of his lawyer.
The crime, which took place after a party, shocked many in Steubenville because of the seeming callousness with which other students took out their cellphones to record the attack and gossiped about it online. The case came to light via a barrage of morning-after text messages, social media posts and online photos and video.
“Many of the things we learned during this trial that our children were saying and doing were profane, were ugly,” Judge Thomas Lipps said.
Mays and Richmond were charged with penetrating the West Virginia girl with their fingers, first in the back seat of a moving car after a mostly underage drinking party on Aug. 11, and then in the basement of a house.
“They treated her like a toy,” prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter said.
Prosecutors argued that the victim was so intoxicated she couldn’t consent to sex that night, while the defense contended the girl realized what she was doing and was known to lie.
The girl testified she could not recall what happened but woke up naked in a strange house after drinking at a party.
“It was really scary,” she said. “I honestly did not know what to think because I could not remember anything.”
She said she believed she was assaulted when she later read text messages among friends and saw a photo of herself naked, along with a video that made fun of her and the alleged attack.
Three other boys, two of them on the football team, saw something happening that night and didn’t try to stop it but instead recorded it with their cellphones. Granted immunity to testify, they confirmed the girl was assaulted and said she was so drunk she didn’t seem to know what was happening.
Evidence at the trial also included sexually explicit text messages sent by numerous students after the party.
In sentencing the boys, Lipps urged parents and others “to have discussions about how you talk to your friends, how you record things on the social media so prevalent today and how you conduct yourself when drinking is put upon you by your friends.”
After the arrests, the case was furiously debated on blogs and social media, with some people warning of conspiracies and conflicts of interest. On Sunday, Hemmeter, the prosecutor, criticized efforts by the hacker collective Anonymous to publicize the case, saying the attention had a chilling effect on those willing to testify.
After the verdict, the accuser’s mother rebuked the boys for “lack of any moral code.”
“You were your own accuser, through the social media that you chose to publish your criminal conduct on,” she said. She added that the case “does not define who my daughter is. She will persevere, grow and move on.”
Echoing that, the judge said that “as bad as things have been for all of the children involved in this case, they can all change their lives for the better.”