The “Butt Drag” Mediation – Sexual Assault or Approved Wrestling Move?

It sounds like a scene out of Fairly Legal, the new USA network series, whose lead character is an ex-attorney who finds her true calling when she changes professions and become a mediator. This is real life, though.

The Incident: No one disputes that Preston Hill, 17, grabbed his teammate’s butt cheek to execute a wrestling move called the “butt drag” during a July, 2010 practice at Buchanan High in Clovis, California. From there, however, the parties’ stories diverge dramatically.

The alleged victim, Hill’s freshman teammate, told Clovis police that Hill rammed two fingers into his anus in retaliation for an earlier bullying incident in which the freshman stood up to Hill, a senior, for taking his water bottle.  Hill denied the allegations, telling police he used a legitimate wrestling move in order to motivate his younger teammate to wrestle. In fact, Hill said, his middle school coaches taught him the move (also known as “checking the oil”).

Prosecution: Although police could find no physical evidence of the assault, the alleged victim’s family pushed for Hill to be prosecuted.  In response, Fresno County Deputy District Attorney Elana Smith filed a sexual assault charge against Hill.  The charges, however, resulted in public accusations of overzealous prosecution against the DA’s office. Following these accusations, Smith was allegedly under pressure from her boss, District Attorney Elizabeth Egan, to dismiss the case.

The Mediation: Fresno County Superior Court Judge David Gottlieb apparently helped broker both an opportunity at dispute resolution for the two young men and their families and a way out for the DA’s office. If Hill would take part in a mediation organized by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s SHARE (“Stop Hate And Respect Others”) program with his teammate, and write an essay afterwards discussing what he had learned, then the charges against Hill would be dismissed.

Hill had initially rejected an offer by the prosecution to drop the charges in exchange for his agreement to issue an apology to his teammate, attend counseling and stay out of trouble for six months.  No one seems to know why Hill rejected that offer.

In January 2011, the Clovis Unified school board expelled Hill after a school panel concluded that Hill had bullied and sexually assaulted his teammate. The following day, Hill agreed to Judge Gottlieb’s proposed mediation.

Two days later, both boys’ parents dropped them off at the Juvenile Justice Campus south of Fresno.  Together, Hill and his teammate watched a presentation on hatred and intolerance held in SHARE’s custom 70-foot mobile theater, and then participated in a mediation session.  After the session, each boy wrote an essay on what he had learned.

Satisfaction:  According to the parties, participating in mediation was worthwhile.

“This case was not about the butt-drag, it’s about bullying and holding people accountable”, the alleged victim’s father said. When the Clovis Unified School District suspended Hill at the start of the school year and then later expelled him, it sent a message to Hill’s friends and others that bullying will not be tolerated, “My son is at peace with the whole process. We want to move on”, the boy’s father said.

Hill’s attorney, Steven Quade, said afterwards, “The case was dismissed. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Invitation to Discuss: So, readers, what do you think about this settlement?  Was this a crime that should have been prosecuted, or was Judge Gottlieb wise to arrange this mediation as an opportunity to teach two young men how to resolve their differences without resorting to the legal system, where quite possibly neither young man would have come out a “winner”?

Let me hear what you think…