Investigation Finds White Football Players at Idaho High School Raped Black Disabled Teammate With Hanger

John R.K. Howard
Tarrant County Jail via KTVB
John R.K. Howard
Tarrant County Jail via KTVB

White Dietrich High School football players in Idaho "more likely than not" viciously raped a black, mentally disabled teammate with a plastic coat hanger in a locker room last year, according to newly released findings from a school district investigation.


KTVB reports that "Superintendent Benjamin Hardcastle and Principal Stephanie Shaw conducted 30 interviews with students, parents and coaches at the school and reviewed footage from a surveillance camera outside the locker room.”

"We found evidence of misconduct among students that include sexual harassment, bullying behavior and sexual assault," Hardcastle wrote in the documents.

The Oct. 22, 2015, incident wasn't the first time the victim had been assaulted by teammates John R.K. Howard, 18, and Tanner Ward, 17, according to his mother and the school's investigation, but it was by far the worst.

On that day, a third boy, age 15, who was unnamed in the documents, allegedly lured the victim in by asking for a hug. Once the victim moved closer, the boy grabbed him so that Tanner and Howard could rape him.

Howard, considered the "ringleader" because it was reportedly his idea to rape the 18-year-old victim, kicked the coat hanger in multiple times.

"The Plaintiff screamed and cried out but no staff member came to his assistance or even attempted to investigate the clamor from within the locker room," said attorneys for the victim's family.


The victim's family has filed a $10 million lawsuit against the Dietrich School District for failing to protect him from escalating racial and sexual assaults leading up to the rape. The family also released witness statements and other documents pertaining to the investigation via their attorney Thursday.

Dietrich School Principal Stephanie Shaw; Superintendent Ben Hardcastle; district board members Starr Olson, Brad Dotson, Benjamin Hoskisson, Kris Hubert and Perry Van Tassell; and football coaches Mike Torgersen, Bret Peterson, Rick Astle and Wayne Dill are all named in the documents.


In order to protect the victim's privacy, The Root is not linking to the investigation documents.

According to the Twin Falls Times-News, the investigation found that Tanner:

▪ More likely than not on Oct. 22 gave the victim a “wedgie” that ripped his underwear before practice. “This happened in front of other student athletes.”

▪ More likely than not, the victim was wearing the torn boxers after practice when the same teammate who gave him the “wedgie” picked up a black plastic hanger and abused the victim.

▪ It is possible that the teammate who inserted the hanger, when told by another player to stop, told that teammate “something to the effect, ‘shut up or I’ll do the same thing to you.’”


Howard was found to have:

▪ More likely than not “kicked the hanger multiple times, either embedding it into the rectum of (victim), or embedding it further.”

▪ More likely than not, the teammate who kicked the hanger “on other occasions … has ‘dry humped’ or simulated having anal sex with younger players.”

▪ “It is possible but not certain that, before practice on Oct. 22, (the player who kicked the hanger) pushed (the victim) into the corner of the bathroom on the Junior High School side of the locker room, after his underwear had been ripped, and simulated having sex with him.”


The third juvenile teammate was found to have:

▪ More likely than not had his arm around and was possibly hugging (victim) when (redacted) grabbed (the victim’s) underwear.

▪ “More likely than not … was present and turned off the lights in the bathroom when (the second player) pushed (the victim) into the corner and simulated having sex with him.”

▪ More likely than not “‘dry humped’ or simulated having sex with (the victim) in the cold storage room the football team keeps its pads, but this happened on a separate date than the other incidents.”


In addition to being sexually assaulted, the victim was also humiliated in math class, according to the lawsuit. The victim's white teammates drew a picture of a school bus with a black face in the backseat and an arrow pointing to the face, along with the victim's name (an image of that drawing was submitted into evidence). It was drawn on the classroom's white board so everyone could see it.

The teammates also allegedly made racist jokes about the victim liking "Kentucky Fried Chicken," "watermelon," "Kool-Aid" and grape soda." In addition, Howard allegedly "placed a Confederate flag on the victim's computer" and forced him to learn the song "Moonman Notorious KKK," a song about lynching, WRCB-TV reports.


Even though the mother said that she believes the boys took advantage of her son's cognitive disability, she didn't report them for the taunts and racist insults because she said that "boys will do and say things sometimes." She also believes that her son waited to tell her because he didn't want to get his teammates in trouble; however, when the victim told his mother about the rape, she reported it to the school the next day.

According to the lawsuit, which was shared with the Washington Post, in addition to the sexual assault, "Dietrich football coaches encouraged other players to fight the victim, allowing [Howard] to knock him unconscious as other students shouted ‘catcalls, taunts and racial epithets’”:

“Mr. Howard is a large and aggressive male who had been sent to live with his relatives in Idaho due to his inability to keep out of trouble in Texas,” the lawsuit says. “Mr. Howard is a relative of prominent individuals in the community and, at least in part due to his athletic ability and community connections, the Defendants ignored or were deliberately indifferent to the behavior of Mr. Howard which included aggression, taunting and bullying of The Plaintiff and other students in the District. With deliberate indifference, the Defendants did nothing to curb the vicious acts of Mr. Howard who brought with him from Texas a culture of racial hatred towards the Plaintiff.”


The victim was adopted by white parents when he was 4 years old. He is one of the few black people in the town of Dietrich, population 332. The town is over 90 percent white.

Howard was arraigned Sept. 6 and pleaded not guilty to felony charges of forcible penetration with a foreign object. He faces a life sentence and/or a fine of up to $50,000. If convicted, he will also have to register as a sex offender.


Adult charges against Tanner were lowered and he will be tried in juvenile court, along with the 15-year-old teammate who allegedly lured the victim in with a hug.

In June the victim wrote the following poem about the incident, which begins:

People Like Me

The worlds not used to people like me
They still have Hitler in their hearts they
Think that being different is a sign of weak and bullying can get them far
But what society doesn't know is that a kicked in hanger can bruise and penetrate the heart


Read the entire poem at KBOI.