Officials respond after video of brutal beating at Southern Utah high school surfaces

Crimson Cliffs High School, Washington City, Utah, March 25, 2021 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

WASHINGTON CITY — Several reader tips reporting a recent assault at a school in Washington City have raised questions about whether the alleged attacker is facing any disciplinary action.

Crimson Cliffs High School in Washington City, Utah, March 25, 2021 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The beating was captured on video, showing a young man in a parking lot repeatedly punch the head of another youth who is on the ground in a prone position. The video, which was provided to St. George News but is not being published due to juvenile privacy guidelines, was widely distributed on social media, as well as YouTube, where it was later removed for violating the service’s content guidelines.

One reader tip stated the incident occurred at Crimson Cliffs High School and the alleged attacker, a juvenile, received no punishment. A juvenile who filmed the incident was also said to have escaped any charges or ramifications following the assault.

A family member of the juvenile who was the target of the attack also wrote in, stating the teen who was assaulted fled to another state without telling anyone following the incident because he was “scared for his life.” The tip also stated that both the Washington County School District and the Washington City Police Department said there was “not much they could do.”

St. George News reached out to Steve Dunham, communications director for the Washington County School District, who said he was recently made aware of the situation and that the district is looking into the incident and is in the process of determining how the juveniles are connected and whether it meets the criteria for bullying.

Dunham disputed the allegations that nothing is being done, saying the district takes these types of situations very seriously, calling it “a complicated situation” that is still under investigation. As such, in addition to the fact the incident involved juveniles, he said he was unable to provide further details.

The incident was reported March 5, and according to Lt. Kory Klotz with the Washington City Police Department, a school resource officer initiated the investigation.

Klotz said the suspect is 15 years old and the alleged victim is a 16-year-old high school student, adding that the incident occurred in the parking lot of Crimson Cliffs High School sometime after students had been released for the day. He said the suspect was not a student at the school but is enrolled in an online learning program. The two teens are reportedly connected by mutual acquaintances, Klotz said.

Klotz said the police investigation revealed evidence of an assault and that the case was forwarded to the juvenile division of the Washington County Attorney’s Office for review.

As to why the youth has yet to be charged, Klotz explained that prior to recent state initiatives having to do with juvenile justice reform, the teen who initiated the confrontation would have been cited by the officer and the charges sent over to the prosecutor’s office. However, that is no longer the case, and instead, cases are sent to the prosecutor assigned to juvenile cases who then determines whether they merit charges or if there are alternatives to going before a judge or being referred to the criminal justice system at all.

The reforms are intended to keep youth who can be safely supervised in the community out of costly residential placements. Expanded community-based programs are intended to divert youth charged with less serious offenses from formal court proceedings.

That review process takes time, Klotz said, and any communication regarding the incident or any actions taken are between the prosecutor’s office and the youth’s parents, which could take up to a month.

Parking lot of Crimson Cliffs High School, Washington City, Utah, March 25, 2021 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

“(Previously), the teen would have been cited much sooner, and he would have known he faced an assault charge, for example,” Klotz said. “But now the case goes straight from the officer to the prosecutor and then through a review process.”

Moreover, Klotz said, neither the teen nor his parents would be aware that any charges are pending until they receive word from the county attorney’s office.

Klotz said the teen directly involved in the altercation was the primary focus of the investigation, but once the video surfaced, police began looking at the teen who filmed the video as well. They conducted multiple interviews to determine his level of involvement, if any, as well as the intent behind taking a video of the altercation.

What investigators learned, Klotz said, is that the teen happened to be at the school when the incident took place and it wasn’t until he witnessed what was going on that he took out his phone and captured the end of the altercation on video.

“We have vetted him thoroughly, and we could not establish he had any more involvement than that,” Klotz said.

On Wednesday evening, the 16-year-old was reported as a runaway, Klotz said of the alleged victim, adding there were two other juveniles who were also reported as runaways and they have reason to believe the three are together. They have yet to determine if the incident and the missing person report are connected, he said, being that the teen did not go missing alone.

Authorities also have reason to believe the three juveniles have left the state, and Klotz said they are pursuing every lead in the case.

“Our focus now is on finding these kids,” he said.

He also said the identity of the teens is not being released at this time, but that may change as the investigation continues.

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the three teens is asked to call the Washington City Police Department at 435-986-1515.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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