Park City tennis coach justified in defending herself against student, judge rules
May 30, 2023, 3:30 PM
PARK CITY, Utah — The former head coach for the Park City High School girls tennis team was legally justified in defending herself during a physical confrontation with a student at practice in August.
On Friday, a judge ruled that Lani Wilcox engaged in justified self-defense and several charges against her were dismissed.
“We are thankful that the judge saw what was really going on in this case,” Wilcox’s attorney, Clayton Simms, told KSL.com.
On Aug. 29, police say Wilcox and a 16-year-old player “got into a verbal argument regarding (the girl’s) position on the team.” The argument got heated and Wilcox “got in (the girl’s) face,” according to charging documents. Police say the girl then slapped Wilcox’s face and Wilcox allegedly responded by grabbing the girl “around the neck in a chokehold” and taking her to the ground while continuing to have her in a chokehold, according to prosecutors.
But Simms says there was no chokehold and that Wilcox was actually trying to protect herself, the other players and coaches. A photo provided by Wilcox shows obvious marks to her face from being slapped.
Once the girl broke away, she got her phone and told Wilcox that she was calling police. The coach grabbed the phone out of the girl’s hands and walked away, prosecutors state.
Wilcox was charged in Summit County’s 3rd District Court with aggravated child abuse, a third-degree felony; and interrupting an emergency phone call, a class B misdemeanor.
Although she was “dumbfounded as to why prosecutors would pursue this case in the first place,” Simms said Wilcox is grateful that the legal process ultimately worked as it should.
“The evidence came out. Witnesses were sworn in. And the prosecution couldn’t even meet the burden of clear and convincing evidence,” he said.
In 2021, HB 227 sailed through the Utah Legislature, giving people charged with some crimes who claim self-defense an opportunity to ask for a justification hearing.
During the pretrial hearing, prosecutors must then prove the person charged did not act in self-defense or the defense of others in order to take the case to trial. If they cannot prove so by clear and convincing evidence the charges are dismissed.
Prosecutors have the option of appealing the ruling in 30-days.
Wilcox is a former professional tennis player and veteran coach. Prior to taking the head coaching job at Park City High School, Wilcox was the head coach for the boys team at Skyline High School and girls team at Judge Memorial High School, winning multiple state championships with each school.
Simms says because of the lack of support his client believes she failed to receive from the Park City School District, she will not be seeking to get her coaching job back at the high school.