KSL Investigates: School Took No Action On Sexting Ring At Union High
Jan 28, 2019, 10:42 PM | Updated: Jan 31, 2019, 11:38 am
ROOSEVELT, Utah – Last spring, a teen sexting ring was first reported to authorities in Roosevelt. For the past nine months, KSL has been investigating whether police, prosecutors and the school properly investigated and took appropriate action.
Police records show at least 27 people were involved, primarily boys soliciting nude photos of girls, and putting those photos on social media without the girls’ permission.
Now, two months after our original investigation, the KSL Investigators discovered the school district could have also taken action, in the form of discipline. They have chosen not to. The KSL Investigators decided to find out why.
Sexting Ring Exposed
On April 18, 2018, Roosevelt police were tipped off by Seminary teacher to an alleged sexting ring in the high school.
An 8-page report by Roosevelt police details the 18 suspects allegedly involved, and the nine girls listed as victims.
According to the report, this is how the ring operated:
• Male students solicited female students for nude images.
• Once a photo or video was sent to one person, it was shared with everyone who was part of an alleged Snapchat group.
• Police records show in order to be part of the Snapchat group, “someone must exchange a nude image of a person they know.”
Distributing child pornography is against the law, but police records received from the city show no phones were initially confiscated. Five phones were eventually taken as evidence, from the alleged 27 teens involved.
The KSL Investigators reached out to Rick Harrison, the Roosevelt City police chief, multiple times to ask about the investigation. He refused to respond by phone or email. And police station surveillance video showed he slipped out the back door when the KSL Investigators tried to speak with him in person.
The Duchesne County prosecutor, Stephen Foote, was also hesitant to talk about a possible conflict of interest involving one of the alleged sexting teens, said to be closely tied to someone in his office. His deputy, Anthony Wilcox, confirmed the office was aware of a potential conflict early in the investigation. That possible conflict led some in the community to believe that is why no criminal action had taken place.
But police and prosecutors aren’t the only ones being questioned.
School District Response
A frustrated mother of one of the girls emailed the KSL Investigators, saying “there was no legal action… no suspensions happened…. NOTHING!”
The police reports show girls reported being “badgered” and “humiliated,” “degraded” and “harassed,” and that their nude images were shared without their knowledge or consent amongst the Snapchat group.
So on Thursday, Dec. 13, during a school board meeting, the KSL Investigators took those concerns to the Duchesne County School District superintendent, Dave Brotherson.
For the next 20 minutes in the hallway, the KSL Investigators asked a lot of questions, trying to find out why the school never disciplined a single student involved.
KSL Investigator Mike Headrick asked, “The students who were allegedly involved, has there been any disciplinary action taken?”
“We have never received a police report of any charges that were filed or anything like that,” said Brotherson. “I’ve seen what you put on the news.”
When asked if he thought the boys were getting off the hook, Brotherson replied, “Uh, you know, I don’t know. I don’t know the details.”
The Duchesne County School District policy clearly states: “A student may be suspended/expelled from school for… behavior, threatened behavior, or intimidation, which poses an immediate and significant threat to the welfare, safety or morals of other students.”
If Brotherson were to see the police report, which is public record, he would see multiple confessions from teens, giving specific details of how the boys received the photos, what they did with them, and how it affected girls at Union High School.
“If you have confessions from boys saying they were sexting and putting this up on Snapchat, could you take action on that?” Headrick asked.
“If it’s affecting school, if it’s a direct effect on their educational process, then absolutely we’d move forward,” replied Brotherson.
But school officials did not move forward.
Even though police reports show a girl was asked daily by students for oral sex, and that a girl in the commons area of the high school was asked in person for nude images.
Police records show another student felt afraid, harassed and threatened; her mother worried to send her to school, concerned about her daughter’s safety.
Brotherson told KSL that early in the investigation, he met with Harrison and asked “if we should start talking to the kids about the recent claims of sexting.”
Brotherson said the police chief told him if the school got involved, they “… would be interfering with an active investigation.”
So the school held off. However, when the police investigation was finally complete, the school district chose not to investigate themselves.
When asked if the school contacted police at that point to see if they were clear to talk to students, Brotherson told KSL, “We actually did, and they said there were no charges filed, and they wouldn’t release any of the names.”
He reiterated five times during the interview that the school did not have the names of students involved:
“We haven’t had the names.”
“There were no names ever mentioned.”
“Haven’t had any names brought before us.”
“We haven’t had the names.”
But through a public records request with the city of Roosevelt, the KSL Investigators obtained two sheets of paper. On those two sheets of paper are 55 names, compiled by the Seminary, of students who “solicited ‘pics,’ nude photos or sexually explicit material” or had “knowledge of the above solicitation.”
The paper states the names “were given to the Roosevelt police department” and “provided to the Principal of Union High School and the Superintendent of Duchesne County Schools for the purpose of potential disciplinary action.” In a handwritten note in the corner of the paper, it is dated as “received” on April 30, 2018.
That was eight months before KSL spoke with Brotherson at the school board meeting.
Even with the names, would the school decide to take disciplinary action now?
“I don’t think you’re going to get anything out of the discipline,” said Brotherson. “You’re six months behind. So do you remove the child from school? Do you not give him the opportunities, or her the opportunities? You know, I feel like we’ve dealt with it.”
The school district says they have dealt with it through student welfare checks, a “community matters” meeting with the public, and a handful of school assemblies talking about the dangers of sexting.
That’s little comfort to the victims and their families, who say the lessons haven’t been learned.
One victim’s mother wrote to KSL, “It’s sickening as a parent to know you don’t have the support of the school nor law enforcement. NONE of those authority figures stood up for these girls.”
And that mother quotes her daughter, who said the boys “just brag about getting away with it. What was the point of saying anything? Nothing happened.”