DULUTH — A high school football player in Proctor, Minn., was charged Friday with felony sexual assault after an attack on a teammate in early September that engulfed the tight-knit community and led to the resignation of the team's longtime coach.
The 17-year-old Proctor High student was charged by juvenile court petition with third-degree criminal sexual conduct, according to the St. Louis County Attorney's Office. The Star Tribune typically does not name juveniles charged with crimes.
Prosecutors have asked to move the caseto adult court, a decision a judge would make after a certification hearing, typically within 30 days.
The investigation began in mid-September after a complaint of "student misconduct" within the football team. It led to the resignation of coach Derek Parendo and the cancellation of the football season.
Proctor police completed their five-week investigation in late October, with a referral to the St. Louis County Attorney's Office. Charges were filed this week, more than two months later.
According to police, a third party over Labor Day weekend sent a lewd photo to a group of Proctor football players on the social media platform Snapchat, using the victim's phone and Snapchat account. It prompted a response over the platform that the victim was "going to get the plunger." Interviews with football players revealed that a plunger was regularly used during "crass" locker-room behaviors, such as touching other players with the rubber end. None of those stories shared involved sexual assault.
After practice Sept. 7, the petition says, between 5 and 5:30 p.m., the victim was in the locker room across the street from the high school when he was confronted by the suspect with the plunger. He fled outside toward the field, thinking it was just another plunger joke, and was chased by the suspect and other players, at least some of whom allegedly held him down for the assault.
Witnesses told police they thought the suspect was joking until the moment he pulled the victim's pants down, and many reported being unsure who helped hold him down. After the alleged attack, the suspect threw the plunger at the victim, the petition says, and returned to the locker room saying, "I did it" and "I bet you guys didn't think I was going to do it."
A security camera wasn't functioning that day and investigators haven't been able to find a recording of the assault or anyone who saw a recording first-hand, police said.
"The investigation in this matter was unnecessarily complicated and delayed by the voluminous amount of social media speculation surrounding this incident as investigators were forced to devote their limited resources to responding to social media rumors," County Attorney Kim Maki said in a news release.
The county attorney's office requested more information from police in early November and received it Jan. 5. No charges are being filed against others at this time, but the investigation remains open, the release said.
The details of the allegations were never released by the police department or Proctor school officials, citing privacy laws and the involvement of juveniles, but rumors about what may have happened filled social media.
Last fall, supporters with signs calling for the protection of children gathered outside the high school. Meanwhile, some parents and community members demanded answers, questioning whether their children were safe in Proctor schools and wondering what led to the alleged misconduct, which was labeled "serious" by school officials.
Others asked that the whole football team, and the town, not be judged by the actions of a few. Students, meanwhile, carried on with homecoming activities and rallied over the successes of other varsity sports through the fall months. Some said they struggled with the allegations and the intense scrutiny that surfaced with the high profile news.
Proctor student Kyleah Jarvi said Friday the charge seems appropriate and "necessary." The year has been hard for students, especially in a school where many are connected to the victim and the suspect, she said, all enduring months of negative attention.
"It's tense and it's weird," she said, with people associating students with the incident just because they were from Proctor.
In the fall, Proctor schools superintendent John Engelking said the district would "take action against substantiated misconduct" and address any problems with the football program. Neither he nor Parendo returned messages Friday.
If convicted, the standard sentence for this crime would be from three to nearly five years in prison if the suspect is sentenced as an adult and has no prior criminal history.