VISTA — The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and Vista Unified School District have each launched investigations into recent allegations of misconduct by members of the Vista High School football team in the school locker room, with head coach David Bottom on administrative leave for the time being.
On Tuesday evening, officials with the Sheriff’s Department and school district shared that they have determined that the incident did not involve a sexual assault, but that they are continuing their investigations.
Vista High School officials first sent a letter to parents on Sept. 7, stating that they had received “deeply disturbing” allegations about misconduct between football players in the locker room that occurred inlate August, just before Labor Day weekend.
In addition to a Sheriff’s Department investigation into a possible crime, the district has hired an outside investigator to determine whether the incident is isolated or whether misconduct is an ongoing issue within the football program.
“We determined that in addition to the sheriff’s investigation, we are going to look at the entire football program to make sure there was no pervasiveness to this, that it wasn’t an ongoing thing,” Vista High School Principal David Jaffe told parents Monday.
In a statement on Tuesday, Superintendent Matthew Doyle said the varsity head football coach will be on leave until the investigation of the football program is complete, with another coach to assume his responsibilities in the meantime.
District officials are speaking with students and reviewing video evidence, according to Jaffe. The district’s investigation is expected to be completed by the end of the week.
A video circulating on social media, purported to be of the incident, shows a young man dressed only in shorts crying out as he is lifted in a bear hug from behind by another, larger individual in the locker room and carried into a room, where the door is shut behind them.
The view of what occurs inside is mostly obscured, but the young man can be seen lying on the floor with his legs being lifted in the air by another individual. A student nearby can be seen holding what appears to be a broom.
Voices can be heard shouting “rape him” and laughing. After about 35 seconds, the door is opened and the student runs out, and the video ends. Due to the video depicting minors apparently in distress, The Coast News will not publish or link to the video.
The Vista Sheriff’s Station said in a statement Tuesday evening that Sheriff’s Detectives spoke to the 14-year-old victim, as well as his mother, fellow students, parents and faculty, and determined that a sexual assault did not happen.
They also revealed that they are investigating two separate incidents that occurred in the locker room, one on Aug. 31 and another on Sept. 2. No further details about the second incident were provided.
School officials said that the Sheriff’s Department has performed wellness checks on the victim of the incident. Two students believed to be the perpetrators have been restricted from participating in football activities, but have been permitted to continue attending school, according to Jaffe.
While school administrators said the person who came forward did not allege that sexual assault had occurred, the Sheriff’s Department stated that the initial reports they received did allege sexual assault.
A Zoom meeting run by Jaffe on Monday evening drew over 100 parents and family members of football players, who were able to raise questions and concerns about the incident and the district’s response.
Submitting comments and questions via chat, several parents said they were frustrated by the apparent lack of supervision in the locker room and vigilance by the coaches. Jaffe said supervision is always required in locker rooms, and that disciplinary action would be taken if staff were found not to be following their duties.
Others claimed that many of the football players have been on the receiving end of harassment by their peers since news of the incident broke, even though the majority of players were not involved.
“As a parent, I feel an obligation to chat with my kids and make sure that they know what’s right from wrong, and if you see something, say something,” a parent of a Vista High School football player, who chose to remain anonymous, said. “I don’t know that I’ll feel fully satisfied until the full report is out, and I know how they’re keeping the kids safe.”vhs-football-letter-to-families-9-7-22-2
Other parents alleged that a freshman football coach had been fired following the incident without notice and were upset at the lack of communication. Jaffe declined to comment on this during the meeting, but Superintendent Matthew Doyle confirmed the firing to NBC.
Doyle also confirmed the incident did not appear to involve sexual assault.
A timeline of events shared by Jaffe suggests that the freshman coach, the first adult to be told about the incident on Aug. 31, did not inform other adults about what occurred until the evening of the following day.
Once the coach reported the incident to coach Dave Bottom, it was relayed to the athletic director, Jaffe and district administrators, followed by the Sheriff’s Department the next day, according to Jaffe.
Vista Sheriff’s Station representatives said the station did not receive a report of any injuries as a result of the incident. Captain Ricardo Lopez also provided a statement regarding the investigation.
“On September 2, the Vista Sheriff’s Station was advised by school officials at Vista High School of an incident involving possible misconduct by student athletes. Since then, the juvenile detective assigned to the Vista Sheriff’s Station has been working with school officials to determine what actually happened. The investigation is ongoing. At this time, we do not have any reason to believe there is any danger to students at Vista High School.”
Anyone with information about the event is encouraged to contact the district’s hired investigator, Howard Fulfrost, via email at [email protected].
UPDATE: This article has been updated to include a description of a video circulating social media purporting to depict the misconduct incident and information. On Tuesday afternoon, the school district announced the VHS head football coach was being placed on administrative leave. The Sheriff’s Department has also determined that a sexual assault “did not happen,” according to an update released on Tuesday evening.