The key victim in a hazing investigation at Clover High School initially told detectives that he was outside the varsity football locker room drinking Gatorade when several players grabbed him, forced him into the locker room, pulled down his pants, and tried to sexually assault him with a broom, according to York County Sheriff's Office investigation records.
But during a month-long investigation, detectives couldn't find witnesses to corroborate his account. And in a follow-up interview, the student changed his story to say he was already in the locker room when players grabbed him, according to the records obtained by The Herald.
When 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett declined in November to file criminal charges, he said the victim's credibility influenced his decision.
The investigation began in October after school administrators heard reports that junior varsity football players had been assaulted by varsity players in a locker room.
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On Nov. 3, after the investigation, Brackett and York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant dismissed the allegations as mere "horse play."
On Friday, Brackett said what happened in the locker room wasn't clear.
"What exactly was done with (the broom) couldn't be established beyond a reasonable doubt," he said. "It was not enough to justify going with charges.
"The clear impression we were left with is it was horsing around."
Earlier this month, the sheriff's office released its investigative records to The Herald under the state's Freedom of Information Act.
The records show at least three students - ages 14, 15 and 17 - were physically accosted at school. After the alleged sexual assault, the 17-year-old was so bothered by persistent rumors and taunts from classmates that he tried to change schools.
The investigation started after a teacher overheard students talking in class, according to the records.
The teacher and three students told investigators that during second period one morning, they heard two football players tell classmates they grabbed an underclassman, "stripped him down," and sexually assaulted him with a broom.
Principal Mark Hopkins called the Sheriff's Office on Oct. 6 and reported that incident. He also reported a Sept. 30 incident in which a coach had told him a freshman was "hazed." A third student later said he also had been accosted.
The reports prompted school officials to suspend 13 varsity players and brought regional media attention to Clover. Rumors spread about the severity of the attacks.
Documents show that Detective Russ Yeager, who led the investigation, interviewed at least 28 students and several faculty members and parents.
The 14-year-old victim said a varsity player snatched his book bag on Sept. 30, when a substitute teacher was in charge of coach John Devine's weightlifting class. As the student chased him to get it back, players picked him up and carried him down the stairs to the varsity locker room.
"We got us a freshman," someone said.
They carried him to the shower and dropped him on the floor. The freshman said he covered his face and head as students punched and kicked him.
"Someone was pulling on my pants, but I held them up," he told detectives.
They continued until someone yelled, "Coach is coming."
Witness accounts of what happened that day varied.
One witness said he saw players carry the freshman into the shower and drop him, but not hit him.
Another player said the students who grabbed the underclassmen were just giving him "little love taps."
Another student said he saw "a bunch of people bullying" the 14-year-old. The student told detectives that he yelled, "Coach is coming" to make them stop.
The varsity player identified as the instigator in the incident told investigators that other students picked the freshman up then dropped him.
Of the three incidents, Brackett said the 14-year-old's was the only one in which he believed someone could have been charged.
But according to investigation records, the student didn't want to press charges.
"If he wanted to press charges, we probably would have," Brackett said. "In a case like this, where there are allegations of simple assault with only one victim ... I'm not going to force that guy to go to court."
The student's lawyer, Richard Breibart, couldn't be reached this week. Last month, the Lexington attorney said the student never declined to press charges.
The 15-year-old victim - who is now 16 - told investigators he was walking by the varsity locker room one afternoon when several players pulled him in. As a player held him, he saw another player hand a broom to someone. Others smacked him on the buttocks with their hands then tried to pull him into the shower.
They were just "wrestling around," and he wasn't hurt, the victim told detectives.
The records show that most of the investigation focused on the alleged sexual assault of the 17-year-old junior varsity player.
Several students and coach Robbie Wiggins said the victim often came into the varsity locker room to bother players and had been told not to do that. On the day of the incident, students said, he was in the locker room "talking smack" when players grabbed him.
Accounts vary about what happened.
According to one player who witnessed it, teammates dragged the junior varsity player into the shower. One teen was smacking his buttocks "pretty hard" while another poked him in the buttocks with a broom.
The player told investigators he didn't see what happened next, but a few minutes later, players came back in from the shower room and said one of them "stuck a broomstick into (the 17-year-old's) butt."
Another student said someone had a broom and threatened to sexually assault the junior varsity player, "but no one would really do that."
Several students said the victim laughed during the incident.
The three students identified as key instigators in the incident agreed only to speak with detectives in the presence of their lawyer, Reggie Lloyd, the former State Law Enforcement Division director.
The three downplayed their roles.
Two of them denied grabbing or assaulting underclassmen and blamed it on other players.
The third player admitted to grabbing a broom that was in the locker room and walking toward the 17-year-old as he was being held by other players. He acted like he was going to smack the junior varsity player with it, he said, but didn't.
Detective Yeager collected a stack of accounts during his investigation.
Some offered little insight. One student's statement reads: "I've seen nothing, I've done nothing,"
Others provided context.
A varsity player told investigators: "This type of thing has gone on in the locker room for years. When I was a freshman, it was done to me and anyone else involved."
The two varsity players who bragged in class about the incident with the 17-year-old told investigators they had embellished the story to classmates.
In a final interview with the 17-year-old victim, Yeager told him that three witnesses he suggested would verify his account said they didn't see what happened. Yeager told the teen there were inconsistencies between his account and what others said happened.
The teen admitted to going into the varsity locker room on several occasions when he wasn't supposed to just to play around with older players, according to Yeager's typed summary of the interview.
Asked why he didn't tell coach Devine what happened, the student said he didn't want anyone to know he talked to an administrator about it.
Asked to recount what happened on the day of the incident, the teen offered a different version than his initial account.
He said he was already in the locker room when a varsity player grabbed him. But he maintained that someone pulled down his pants while others smacked his buttocks and a player poked him with a broom.
During the interview, the teen said he just wanted all of this to go away and wished people would stop talking about it.
Yeager told the student he believed "something happened" in the locker room and asked the teen whether he thought the players were "just playing around with him" or tried to physically harm him.
According Yeager's summary, the teen said they were probably just playing around, but when people started talking about it, his feelings were hurt, and he was embarrassed by what students were saying about him.