Credit: Courtesy

Warning: This story contains disturbing descriptions of alleged sex-related hazing of minors.

The Santa Barbara Unified School District has reached a settlement on a lawsuit brought by a former student at Dos Pueblos High School who said other students repeatedly hazed him during an out-of-town baseball tournament and that coaches and district employees allowed the hazing, much of it sexual in nature, to go on unchecked. 

The plaintiff and former student, who will remain anonymous, brought the suit after several incidents occurred in early 2018 during a baseball tournament that took the team out of Santa Barbara for a number of days. Stephanie Bowen, the lawyer representing the district in this case, would not confirm the amount of the settlement. “The District’s liability for this incident was disputed,” Bowen told the Independent. “After multiple mediations with all parties, the District’s insurer agreed to settle on behalf of the District to avoid further costs of litigation.”

According to court documents, during a tournament and hotel stay in Ontario, California, members of the Dos Pueblos baseball team conspired to haze the plaintiff and another team member, due to the two boys’ refusal to participate in hazing initiation rituals at the beginning of the season.

The main incident brought forward in the suit was a coordinated effort from other team members to deceive the plaintiff and another team member into ingesting a tainted doughnut. Several team members ejaculated into a cup, mixed it together, and spread it on a doughnut, feeding it to the plaintiff without informing him of the harmful organic substance. Court documents also say members of the team filmed the plaintiff eating the doughnut and would later share the video via social media. 

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It is unclear where the assistant coaches who attended this trip were at the time of this incident, but court documents allege the event took place after 10 p.m. Coaches are required to conduct bed checks at 10 p.m. to ensure all students are safe and accounted for. Frank Cuykendall, who represented the plaintiff in the lawsuit, told the Independent that the head coach said he was out to dinner but believed the assistant coaches were at the hotel. It is unclear whether a bed check was conducted on this night. 

The day prior to the doughnut incident, the plaintiff and the other team member were forced to participate in a “cookie run,” according to court documents. Other members of the team had allegedly participated in this activity earlier in the year, but the plaintiff and other team member had refused. The “cookie run” involved team members stripping naked, rubbing “horse-grade IcyHot” on their testicles, putting a cookie between their butt cheeks, and running. If the cookie is dropped, the team member that dropped it was typically forced to eat it. 

During this particular hazing activity, some members of the team allegedly went to seek refuge with the assistant coaches who were chaperoning the trip. On this night, court documents allege that none of the coaches were in their hotel rooms at or around 10 p.m. When players asked other team members where the coaches were, they responded that they had all gone out to Hooters. In the lawsuit, the plaintiff alleges this created the free-for-all type of environment that allowed the hazing to continue and escalate to the doughnut incident. 

The response from lawyers representing the district to the plaintiff’s complaint boiled down to the baseball team and tournaments being voluntary, and the plaintiff failed to do more to “mitigate the damages,” as written in court documents. Bowen told the Independent that evidence brought forward in the trial proved the baseball coach made efforts to mitigate hazing before learning of this incident. 

“The District had substantial policies already in place in an effort to prevent hazing,” Bowen said. “The District has now expanded on existing policies by taking additional steps to try to prevent hazing, including additional education for student athletes, parents, and coaches.”

Cuykendall said he hopes the hard-fought battle his client went through will minimize the rate of hazing and bullying in the district. He also said that his client would be working with local representatives to discuss the legal responsibility and immunity of a school district when chaperoning students in out-of-town events. 

“My client, and his parents, plan on speaking to our local state representatives on various issues and laws, or lack thereof, relating to this matter,” said Cuykendall. “As it stands now, the law relating to school immunity, particularly at the high-school level, is about as clear as mud.”

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