Dietrich is a small, rural town in southern Idaho, high, mountain desert country, with vast open spaces and small farms and a population of just 330, as of the most recent census. Many of the people who live there are Mormon. Dietrich is the only high school in town."This was an absolute shock to everyone," says Lee Schlender, one of the attorneys representing James and his family in a lawsuit against the school. "Crime of any kind is relatively unknown. These communities are very close-knit. The culture is very inclusive, very understanding."The McDaniel family makes up about 20 of those 330 people. Over the years, Tim and Shelly McDaniel, who also have biological children, have adopted 20 other children, many of whom are black and Latino, some with physical or mental disabilities. Right now they have about ten kids at home. The McDaniels grow their own vegetables and raise and milk goats, and Tim is a teacher at the high school where their son was assaulted.
James's teammates gave him "power wedgies" that often resulted in his underwear being torn. They punched him. They jumped on his back and "hump[ed]" him from behind in a simulation of anal sex. Sometimes in plain view of their coaches, who did nothing. In a math class one day, a student drew a bus on the chalkboard, depicting James sitting in the back.
Now who's the real dookie
All you niggers smell like shit
You niggers can ride my dick
Spear chuckers pushing up sticks
Ooga booga, go back to Africa
Due in part to the town's size and to its relatively large Mormon community—the families of the accused and the McDaniels are all Mormon—there is an expectation that people handle conflict within the community, without bringing in outsiders. One of the tenets of Mormonism is to resolve disputes within the church, and Schlender says that these "regular, almost formal proceedings" involve a church committee that attempts to resolve any issues. It's a system that, for the most part, works well with small disputes—"differences over farming," Schlender says, "[or] someone owes some bills to the grocery store."
They somehow think that this was just a 'boys will be boys' kind of thing.
"The trend is to hold the districts more accountable for things that they knew about and were indifferent to," says Schlender. "It's extremely difficult to hold a school district responsible for even something of this kind."That responsibility can be applied differently when the victim in question is disabled, and their rights are protected under federal law. If the courts find that a vulnerable category of students was discriminated against, then they lean towards the side of the plaintiff.Former prosecutor and Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson tells Broadly that in a civil case like this, it's common for witnesses to assert their Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves.
*Name has been changed.