Wrestling for a Conviction

H/T to Scott (the military Scott, not the Greenfield Scott) for bringing this article to my attention.

The NY Times published a story about 17-year-old Preston Hill, a high school wrestler from Fresno, CA. Soon, he faces a criminal trial. The charges: sexually assaulting a fellow high-schooler and wrestling teammate. Sexual assault is serious stuff. He must have done something really bad.

At 17 years old, Preston Hill is known around the Fresno area as an accomplished wrestler, a leader of his high school team, the Buchanan Bears, and a potential candidate for a college scholarship in the sport he loves.

But over the past several months, Preston has been battling another opponent, the Fresno County district attorney, who has charged him with a bizarre crime: using a wrestling move to sexually assault a teammate.

According to a police report, during a July practice Preston used a maneuver informally known as a “butt drag” — which involves grabbing the haunch of an opponent to gain leverage — to roughly and intimately assault a smaller, younger wrestler on his team in retaliation for a supposed affront.

Preston has denied attacking the younger boy, who is 14, telling the investigating officer that he was merely executing a common maneuver that “everyone does,” in order to “to motivate people who don’t move on the mats.”

“Hill replied that this was a wrestling move,” according to the police report.

Hmmm. Not quite the back-alley, broomstick antics I expected.

If you are like me, you are probably wondering about a “butt drag.” The following video explains it a bit (starting at .30).

So, is this an extension of the bully mania sweeping the nation? The complaining witness seems to think so.

The police in Clovis, a middle-class enclave where wrestling is a proud tradition, say the case began over the summer. The 14-year-old accuser, who has not been identified, told the police that he had been “bullied by several students,” including Preston Hill, who, the younger boy said, had made a habit of taking his drinking water during practice.

On July 15, however, according to the younger boy’s account, he refused to hand his water over, prompting threats from Preston, including menacing gestures. The police report states that at a practice that evening, Preston purposefully stood near the younger boy during a wrestling exercise and, when the coach whistled for wrestling to begin, threw the younger boy down, pinned him to the mat and performed an invasive “butt drag” maneuver.

OK. Well, wrestling is not the most gentle of sports. I’m tall and lanky, and my frame is that of a cross country runner rather than a wrestler. However, I do have an appreciation for the sport. While at West Point, every sophomore male must take wrestling as a PE class. I’d tell you about my experiences, but all I remember was having my legs chopped from beneath me, being pinned, and getting thrown-around. It hurt, but what do you expect from a sport where the goal is to physically dominate your opponent.

That sounds somewhat important. The goal is to physically dominate your opponent. To do this, you must grapple, grab, push, and prod your opponent in any way that gives you a leverage advantage. I think the sport of wrestling advertises this fact fairly well.

Luckily, the complaining witness’ father is keeping a logical perspective.

The 14-year-old accuser’s father, Ross Rice, said it would have been easier not to press charges. “But that’s the wrong attitude,” he said. “That’s when you can end up with a Columbine situation.”

Columbine? Oh for crying out loud.  That’s like all these senators who try to sell invasive laws in the name of not letting the terrorists win. Columbine is a horrific event involving mass (relatively) murder. Invoking that term is like comparing any politician to Hitler. It is the easy way out. Your son’s situation is unique and controversial. Invoking memories of Columbine is a weak attempt to get the public to rally around the cause.

So, what is 17yo Preston facing, if convicted?

If convicted of misdemeanor sexual battery, Preston could face six months in county jail. He has been suspended from Buchanan High School, a handsome suburban school that won the state wrestling team championship in 2006. The school district declined to comment on the specifics of the case, citing student confidentiality laws.

Let’s also not forget the potential of lost scholarships, expulsion from school, delayed/lost high school graduation, loss of his good name, a tarnished criminal history, and loss of employment opportunities–all before he turns 18 and begins the substantive portion of his life.

I’ve always felt that matters are always best handled at the lowest possible level. Of particular note here is that there is no evidence in any reporting I’ve seen of an attempt to handle this matter at the school/team level.

Did Ross Rice decide to immediately take matters to the police? It sure seems so. This may be for a variety of reasons. Perhaps he is laying the groundwork for a civil claim against the school since this all occurred at a practice where, presumably, the school provided adult supervision. Perhaps he is seeking his 15 minutes of fame. In todays, world, that wouldn’t be surprising. Finally, maybe he just embodies today’s litigious, overreacting society. His willingness to invoke Columbine as a talking-point is indicative of someone who has prepared this matter with an eye on publicity.

Why is this such an issue for me? In an acronym, a word, and a number: UCMJ Article 120. This is the military criminal statute for a laundry-list of sexual assaults. One of the flavors of sexual assault, Wrongful Sexual Contact, consistently pisses me off.

Essentially, it provides that if someone touches another person in a way that satisfies the definition of “sexual contact” and the reason for the contact is humiliation, sexual gratification, or other very general terms, then the person is guilty of wrongful sexual contact.

One case I had involved a couple of young guys running around the basic training barracks playing tricks on their buddies. The trick: mushroom stamping. For those of you who are not connoisseurs of mushroom stamping, it involves placing the tip of one’s penis on another person in order to scare them and/or provide a certain level of revulsion. If you still have questions, go ask someone at the nearest frat house.

Older variants of this include the “parrot on the shoulder” and “bubblegum on the desk” tricks. All popular among the 16-22yo male crowd.

The mushroom-stamping soldiers were charged with Wrongful Sexual Contact. Their conduct satisfied the elements: 1. They touched their penises to another person without permission (fitting the definition of sexual contact) and 2. It was done with the intent to provide a bit of humiliation.

If they were convicted at a special or general court-martial, they must register. Wrongful Sexual Contact is a registerable sexual offense. Period. They would be out there with rapists and child molesters with their mug shots on several snazzy web pages.

Really? Sex Offender Registration for a college-aged prank? Couldn’t this be handled at a lower level as to not stigmatize them for life?

Luckily, my case was handled at a lower level. Normally, I am hesitant to settle cases, but I make an exception when the case has bad facts (for my client) and I can guarantee no offender registration with the deal.

My cases ended OK. Not great, but OK. What scares me is what might have been. I certainly did not have the facts and evidence working for me. Those kids I represented could have been ruined for life–before life ever really began.

So, why couldn’t the school handle Preston’s case similarly? Were they given the opportunity? It would be nice to know.

It certainly seems reasonable compared with the possibility of destroying a future before life begins–never mind the fiscal and emotional toll of the prosecution itself. Also consider the slippery slope created by prosecuting this matter–it is coated in KY and baby oil. Where is the line drawn in sports? In football alone, I can think of dozens of close calls. Did the linebacker intend to stop the running-play, or was he trying to hurt the running back? Are helmet-to-helmet hits now fodder for DA’s everywhere?

This is a matter for the school. That’s where it began, and that’s where it should end.


3 thoughts on “Wrestling for a Conviction

  1. Yet another excellent reason to choose fencing at USMA rather than wrestling with sweaty guys in spandex with long fingers and uncut cuticles.

    • If only I had a choice.

      Mandatory PE Classes at USMA (for Males in the early 90s):
      1. Swimming (want to know what it’s like to drown? I probably have a decent idea).
      2. Boxing (my nose will never be the same).
      3. Gymnastics (thank goodness photography was not allowed in the gym on those days)
      4. Combatives (all I know is that, if I’m in a knife fight, I’m going to get cut, bad)
      5. Wrestling* (my years of watching Bulldog Bob Brown ‘rassle Harley Race did nothing to prepare me to be tied-up like a pretzel by short guys)

      *I have no recollection of being butt dragged. Although, if I was, I likely repressed the memories. They shall, therefore, remain repressed.

  2. I read about this case a week ago and forwarded to my brother. We both wrestled in High School. This move and variants of it exist. Not comfortable when performed upon you, but few wrestling moves are. Not what I’d consider criminal, especially in a sport where you could break a guy’s nose, dislocate a guy’s shoulder, rip a guy’s groin muscle, or give a guy a concussion and it woudn’t be considered battery let alone assault. Heck, looking at the definition of assuault (in general), one could make the argument that a good wrestler wants to cause his opponent to have the reasonable apprehension of an immediate harmful or offensive contact. Frankly, it makes it easier to win if the other guy thinks you might tear him limb from limb.

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