Education

Clovis wrestler files 'butt drag' case claim

A Buchanan High freshman has filed a financial claim against the Clovis Unified School District, alleging that a senior inflicted physical and emotional pain when he rammed two fingers up his anus during wrestling practice.

It's the latest chapter in a highly charged case that could leave the school district on the hook for civil damages over a wrestling move called the "butt-drag."

The case involves 17-year-old Preston Hill, who said he executed the move on the freshman but then was kicked out of Buchanan after school officials accused him of sexual battery.

The boy told Clovis police that Hill rammed two fingers into his anus during a practice at Buchanan in July. Hill, however, told police he used a legitimate wrestling move and only grabbed the boy's butt cheek.

Hill, who was supposed to be captain of Buchanan's wrestling team this year, contends his wrestling coaches taught him the move.

In addition to being kicked out of school, Hill also was charged with sexual battery in Fresno County Superior Court. The criminal charge was dismissed Jan. 27 without Hill having to admit wrongdoing after he and his teammate attended an educational program.

In his claim to the Clovis school district, the freshman seeks damages "for physical and mental injuries due to an alleged assault"; the claim doesn't say how much money he wants. He is not being identified because he is an alleged sexual battery victim.

The Clovis school board is scheduled to discuss the claim at its Wednesday board meeting. Staffers want the board to reject it.

Typically, a claim against a school district is a precursor to a lawsuit.

But the boy's father said Saturday that he has not retained a lawyer and has no plans to sue the district "at this time."

He said they filed the claim in December -- and amended it in January -- because there is a six-month deadline to do so.

Hill's attorney, Charles Magill, said Saturday that he suspects a lawsuit is in the offing.

"This case from the start has been about the father wanting money from the school district," Magill said.

If a lawsuit is filed, the boy won't prevail, Magill said, because Clovis Unified first suspended Hill at the start of the school year and then expelled him. "They can't claim the district was negligent," he said.

Magill also said the boy's conflicting statements to police and school officials hurt his chance of winning a civil lawsuit. Police also found no evidence on the boy's underwear or gym shorts to support his account, Magill said.

But Fresno attorney Nicholas "Butch" Wagner, who is not associated with the case, said the freshman could prevail in court.

"If the district knew the kid was being bullied or knew coaches were teaching the maneuver and turned its back, then there's civil liability," he said.

The key to this case, Wagner said, is whether putting fingers into a wrestler's anus is part of the butt-drag move and is allowed by referees. "If the refs don't call foul, then you can't win," he said.

The freshman's parents say Hill is a bully and that their son stood up to him. The boy told police Hill allegedly made a threatening gesture with his fingers to indicate he was going to use the butt-drag move at wrestling practice.

A three-member school panel voted unanimously Jan. 13 to recommend Hill's expulsion to the Clovis school board. The panel concluded that Hill committed sexual battery against his teammate, bullied him and committed an obscene act.

During the hearing, however, Terrell Blanche, Buchanan's head wrestling coach, testified that the butt-drag is a legitimate maneuver in which wrestlers are taught to grab the leg right below the buttocks to gain leverage on an opponent.

In matches, he said, anything can happen -- even penetration of an opponent's anus.

After the Clovis Unified school board expelled Hill on Jan. 19, he appealed to the Fresno County Board of Education.

The county education board, however, voted 3-2 to uphold Clovis Unified's expulsion.

Magill said Saturday that the close vote by the county education board gives credence to Hill's quest to get his expulsion canceled.

"This battle is far from over," Magill said.

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