No charges filed in ‘forced splits’ cheerleading exercise

Posted at 2:53 PM, Oct 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-16 14:53:40-04

DENVER -- No criminal charges will be filed in connection with a Denver cheerleading practice that resulted in an injury to one girl, the Denver District Attorney's office said Saturday afternoon.

The coach, Ozell Williams, was fired after videos surfaced that showed cheerleaders were forced into doing the splits during practice.

The decision comes after an investigation conducted by the Denver Police Department over the past several weeks that included dozens of interviews of cheerleader team members, parents, school personnel and others, according to KDVR.

Ozell denied any allegation that he played a part in potentially injuring athletes at the school.

"We would never hurt our kids or put them in harms and there’s more to the story and we’ll tell it soon," he said.

The scandal eventually resulted in East High School principal Andy Mendelsberg retiring, and athletic director and assistant principal Lisa Porter resigning.

District Attorney Beth McCann met with a small group of East High School cheerleader families Saturday, then issued a statement.

“The video of the incident involving the injured student that has been widely disseminated is painful to watch. However, after a very thorough and careful review of all of the evidence gathered in the investigation and the statements of many members of the cheerleading squad, I have concluded that the evidence does not support the filing of criminal charges. In order to prove a charge of criminal behavior, the case must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

There are differing opinions regarding the use of this technique of cheerleading training. While I believe the technique should not be used, that is not the standard of proof for a criminal case. Most of the cheerleading squad participated in the technique that day, and there are differing accounts of the circumstances.

The individual involved should not be a coach in high school sports and he no longer is. The principal and athletic director of the school have retired and resigned. The message should be clear that this type of technique has no place in high school cheerleading coaching. The bad judgment of the coach, however, does not constitute a prosecutable crime.”

"We appreciate the partnership of the Denver Police Department and the Denver District Attorney's Office in this matter," Denver Public School Superintendent Tom Boasberg said.

"The decisions made by Denver Public Schools were based on the facts as detailed in the independent report by Davis, Graham and Stubbs.

"Our top priority has been, and will continue to be, the safety and well-being of our students."

On Sunday, the Wakefield and Nickolay families issued a statement regarding the district attorney's office decision.

"The Wakefield and Nickolay families continue to focus on their daughters' physical and emotional healing. While the families disagree with the decision of the Denver District Attorney's Office, they appreciate the kindness and genuine concern demonstrated by DA Beth McCann through this difficult process. The families are determined to ensure no other student athletes are subjected to any form of abuse at the hands of adults entrusted with their care.