Basketball team plays in conference championship without teammates charged with statutory rape

Posted at 10:25 PM, Mar 02, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: We want to apologize about a story we ran Thursday night on FOX 17 News at 10 pm. Five basketball players at South Haven High School have been charged as adults, accused of statutory rape involving an underage girl.

While identifying those five players, we inadvertently used the wrong picture in our story. By doing so, we misidentified two men who are no longer on the basketball team nor students at South Haven High School. When we realized the mistake we immediately pulled the story from all of our platforms. Our News Director has been in contact with family members of the two men and has personally apologized to them. We strive to be accurate in our work here at FOX 17 and in this case, we failed. We apologize to those two men, their families and our viewers for that mistake.

THREE RIVERS, Mich– The South Haven Rams took on the Three Rivers Wildcats in the varsity boys conference champions on Thursday night, without five of their teammates.

Brothers Damari and Deshaan Palmer, as well as Darion Gist, Cameron Watkins and Caskadra Smith are all charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct, which is defined as statutory rape of a victim ages 13, 14, or 15 years of age. All five students are being charged as adults in the case.

The superintendent of South Haven Schools tells FOX 17 the suspects have been allowed to return to school. However, when it comes to athletics, they’ve been suspended from the varsity basketball team.

“They’re off. You can call it whatever you want but they’re off. We’re moving forward with what we got,” said head coach Larry Ash. “This is a lesson, we have a thing called live above the line. And above the line is character, making good choices and integrity.”

Police say the alleged sexual encounters began last November and say they were alerted to what was going on after a counselor at the school was informed by a student.

“It wasn’t difficult playing without them. It’s difficult knowing what went down more than anything. I had a bunch of people coming up to me tonight saying things, some of them positive some of them negative,” said Coach Ash. “What we got to understand is, kids are going to be kids, and that shouldn’t have happened. I feel more sorry for the victim than I do anything.”

Members of the JV team filled in for the missing players Thursday night. The South Haven Rams ended up winning with a score of 60 to 57. It’s the team’s first conference championship in nearly 20 years.

The five suspects are due back in court next week.