Assault case against Clovis wrestler dismissed

January 27, 2011 

Ending a high-profile case that spurred community debate over whether a high school wrestling move could be a sex crime, a judge Thursday agreed to dismiss a sexual battery charge against a former Buchanan High senior.

Preston Hill, 17, and his alleged victim showed up Thursday in Fresno County Superior Court for the last step in a criminal case that ended after both agreed to participate in a Los Angeles Sheriff's Department educational program on the dangers of hate and intolerance.

Hill, his parents and supporters left the Fresno County Juvenile Justice Campus south of Fresno without speaking to reporters. But Hill's attorney, Stephen Quade, said they were pleased with the outcome.

"The case was dismissed. It doesn't get any better than that," Quade said.

The alleged victim and his family appeared to take the dismissal in stride.

"We want to move on," the boy's father said, noting that Hill was punished when the Clovis Unified School District board of trustees suspended him at the start of the school year and then expelled him.

"Hopefully, moves on and grows in a positive way," the father said.

No one disputes Hill grabbed his teammate's butt cheek to execute a wrestling move called a "butt drag" during a July practice at Buchanan High.

The teammate, however, told Clovis police that Hill rammed two fingers into his anus. Hill denied the allegation, telling police he used a legitimate wrestling move -- one he said his coaches taught him -- in order to motivate his freshman teammate to wrestle.

Although police never found physical evidence on the boy's underwear, the alleged victim's family pushed for Hill to be prosecuted, saying Hill was a bully. The boy and his family told police Hill assaulted him after he stood up to Hill for taking his water bottle.

Mike Moyer, executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association in Pennsylvania, said the national exposure of Hill's case has had a positive impact on the sport.

"Cheap shots happen," he said. Now, coaches, parents and athletes are on the lookout for illegal moves, said Moyer. "We all have a desire to protect the integrity of the sport," he said.

Moyer didn't give an opinion about Hill's innocence or guilt, but said no coach should teach wrestlers to put fingers in an opponent's anus: "If they do, they shouldn't be part of the sport."

In order for the charge to be dismissed, Hill had to participate in a program put on by members of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department called SHARE, which stands for Stop Hate and Respect Everyone. The program teaches youths about the dangers of hate and intolerance and encourages them to be leaders, Quade said.

The SHARE team put on a special session for Hill and the alleged victim last week at the Juvenile Justice Campus at the request of Judge David Gottlieb.

Hill then had to write an essay about what he learned in the program before Gottlieb dismissed the charge, Quade said. As part of the deal, the alleged victim also had to write an essay, Quade said.

Earlier, a source had told The Bee that the deal required Hill to apologize, but on Thursday the judge did not require an apology.

"Preston has always maintained his innocence," Quade said. "There was no reason for him to apologize."

Former Fresno State wrestling coach Dennis DeLiddo said Thursday he was glad the case had been resolved. For months, it has stirred controversy among people who don't understand the "butt-drag" move, he said.

"Coaches don't teach kids to stick their fingers up someone's butt. How stupid can you be?" he said.

DeLiddo said Hill didn't do anything wrong to even warrant an expulsion.

"It should have been resolved by the parents," he said. "This case was a bunch of bull."

Fresno County District Attorney Elizabeth Egan said she could not comment because juvenile proceedings are confidential.

But the dismissal of charges ends a case that has been challenging for Egan's office, which has had to defend itself against accusations of overzealous prosecution. At one point, Egan had wanted the case dismissed, according to a source with knowledge of the case, but one of her deputies, Elana Smith, pushed to prosecute it.

In the end, Smith -- with the help of the judge -- found a solution that the alleged victim's father said his son could accept.

"This case was not about the butt-drag," the father said. It's about bullying and holding people accountable, he said.

When the Clovis Unified School District expelled Hill, it sent a message to his friends and others that bullying won't be tolerated, he said.

"My son is at peace with the whole process," the father said.

The reporter can be reached at plopez@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6434.

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