Clovis News: Sports

DA offers wrestler deal in sexual battery case

Correction: Preston Hill has not been expelled. He has been suspended pending an expulsion hearing.

The Fresno County District Attorney's Office is having second thoughts about prosecuting a Buchanan High School wrestler for sexual battery.

Preston Hill, 17, is due to go on trial Thursday. Clovis police and the alleged victim said Preston rammed two fingers into the teammate's anus during wrestling practice in July. Preston's attorney says he used a legitimate wrestling move called the "butt drag."

Amid a public uproar over the case that began after The Bee reported it on Sunday, prosecutors met with Preston's attorney on Tuesday to offer a deal: The case would be dismissed if Preston -- who has been expelled from Buchanan -- stayed out of trouble for several months.

Unlike most such deals, it would not require Preston to admit guilt.

But Stephen Quade, who represents Preston, said his client will likely reject the offer because he didn't do anything wrong.

Quade said he is prepared to go to trial.

Complicating the case is an apparent disagreement within the District Attorney's Office about how to proceed.

A person with detailed knowledge of the case, speaking on condition of anonymity, said prosecutor Elana Smith is resisting instructions from her boss, District Attorney Elizabeth Egan, to drop the case.

Egan declined to comment Tuesday. Smith could not be reached.

But the source said Smith, a 12-year-veteran of the District Attorney's Office, is willing to stake her reputation -- and her job -- on the case. "She believes a crime has been committed, and she won't back down," the source said.

If the case goes to trial, a key issue is whether the conduct meets the legal definition of sexual battery. That could hinge on the question of whether Preston had threatened the boy.

The boy told police that Preston made a threatening gesture -- he inserted two fingers into a circle formed by his other hand -- indicating "he was going to place his fingers up his butt," the police report stated.

Preston has denied making the gesture, and Quade has said no one else saw him doing it. But the source said Smith recently found a witness -- another student -- who can corroborate the 14-year-old's account about the gesture.

Quade said the offer to conditionally dismiss the case came from Assistant District Attorney Lisa Gamoian and Rudy Carrillo, a chief deputy district attorney. Gamoian and Carrillo are Smith's supervisors. Smith was not present at the meeting, he said.

Quade said the offer was better than the one made several months ago, but declined to give details. Preston rejected the earlier offer, Quade said.

The case against Preston has drawn widespread attention because Preston and his parents contend their son, a senior, was using a legitimate wrestling move on the boy, a freshman at Buchanan High.

They said Clovis wrestling coaches taught Preston the move, known as a "butt drag," and that he used the move during practice in front of coaches, teammates and parents.

In general, the butt drag requires a wrestler to grab a rival's butt cheek to get leverage. Local coaches say anal penetration can occur accidentally, but should never be done on purpose. The move is widely used at matches around the country and has been around for decades, authorities say.

Ross Rice, father of the alleged victim, said Preston is a bully who targeted his son because the boy stood up to Preston during an earlier encounter.

Because of the incident, Rice said, Preston's friends continue to tease his son at school. The boy also didn't go out for the wrestling team, his father said.

Rice said Tuesday that Smith contacted him and told him that the trial might be delayed, but she didn't say anything about dropping the case.

"She's a fighter," Rice said. "She's not going to give up on my son."