BLACKFOOT — At an arraignment hearing Thursday morning for four former Blackfoot High School students alleged to have engaged in sexual battery and false imprisonment against fellow students, the magistrate indicated that getting the case resolved in a timely manner is critical due to the concern it has raised in this community.
“This whole community needs this matter to be resolved in as swift a manner as possible,” Magistrate Judge Charles L. Roos said during the defendants’ initial court appearance regarding charges related to incidents that allegedly occurred last school year.
He said the community deserves to have the case tried “in a timely and speedy fashion and that’s what I intend to do.”
Five former Blackfoot High School athletes have been charged with numerous misdemeanor and felony incidents that allegedly took place last year. The charges, which include allegations of forcible sexual penetration with a foreign object, have been filed against Logan J. Chidester, Anthony Clarke, Tyson W. Katseanes and Nathan A. Walker, all 19.
A person who was a minor at the time also faces charges stemming from the incidents, which allegedly took place on a school bus and in a school locker room.
Roos set a preliminary hearing for Jan. 5-6, with the possibility it could last longer. Laying down the law, he let the attorneys representing the accused know that he fully intends to have the case decided in a timely manner.
“This case is going to take priority in my life,” Roos said to a mostly packed courtroom at the Bingham County Courthouse. “I expect it to take priority in counsels’ life as well.”
Shortly after Thursday’s hearing, Katseanes’ attorney, Brian Goates, said rumors about the case have reached ridiculous proportions and the community should reserve judgment until the case is decided.
“The rumor mills are out of control in Blackfoot,” Goates said. “Wait until you see the evidence before you make a determination on this because it’s not all that it seems.”
Because of the publicity the allegations have attracted — Blackfoot School District Superintendent Scott Crane was interviewed on CNN this week — Roos said it was likely the trial would be moved to a venue outside of Bingham County.
Because the alleged incidents have been talked about extensively by the local citizenry, “it will be difficult to get an unbiased jury” in Bingham County, he said.
Before reading the charges against them, Roos reminded the defendants of their Miranda rights. None of the defendants showed much emotion, even as Roos reminded them that each count of forcible sexual penetration with a foreign object carries possible life sentence.
Roos said the various misdemeanor charges the defendants face — false imprisonment, aiding and abetting, battery — will be tried independent of the felony charges. The felony is under the jurisdiction of the district court.
Roos issued a no-contact order, forbidding the defendants from contacting alleged victims or witnesses. Roos told counsel the order only extends to the accused and they shouldn’t view the order as preventing them from doing their job of representing their clients.
“Counsel always has the right to investigate, interview and prepare a defense to the best of their ability,” he said. “So, don’t read that (no-contact order) any other way.”
In an almost seven-minute piece that ran on CNN earlier this week, the network incorrectly claimed the alleged incidents involved people being forced to perform sex acts.
“A claim that the alleged victims in the existing court cases were forced to perform sex acts is not true,” the Bingham County Prosecutor’s office stated in a press release. “The complaints filed against Walker, Clarke, Chidester or Katseanes make no such allegation.”
The CNN piece was titled, “Idaho high school hazing scandal erupts” and the reporter called it a “horrific abuse case.”
During the TV interview, Crane said the allegations came to light in September as the school was reviewing its harassment and bullying policies and “encouraging students to be aware of these issues and come forward with them.”
As the policies were being reviewed, “some of our students brought this to our attention,” Crane said.
Crane told the CNN reporter he could not discuss specifics of the case and would not say how many victims came forward, but he did assure her the district was taking the claims seriously.
“As they come forward, their concerns are taken very seriously and we work with our local police to make sure that these things are taken care of promptly,” he said.
He added that “any type of hazing or bullying or sexual harassment in any form should not be tolerated.”
Crane said district officials have met with all high school coaches individually and as a group following the accusations.
“We emphasized the fact they need to be vigilant in all areas of supervision and that they should take extra precaution on buses and in locker rooms and with students staying after school,” he said. “It’s more of an emphasizing of the positions we have and a stressing of the need to be vigilant at all times.”