Charges dismissed against middle school wrestling coaches day before trial

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MINERVA, Ohio-Criminal charges have been dismissed against two middle school wrestling coaches who supervised a drill that police and prosecutors initially agreed crossed the line.

The charges resulted from a drill in December during which each member of the team was instructed to do a hard takedown of a 67 pound 12-year-old team member, according to police reports obtained by FOX 8.

Speaking on behalf of the family of the boy, Alliance attorney Jeff Jackmides said the boy’s parents went to police at the urging of an emergency room physician who told them that, as a mandatory reporter, he would file the report if they didn’t.

“This emergency room doctor said this is child abuse. I don’t care if it occurred during the course of practice or not; this is child abuse.”

During an interview with FOX 8 in January, prosecutor Caitlin Schneider agreed with the assessment and approved of the charges.

“I think there are some cases where this might be appropriate in practice especially in wrestling; I have heard of that being a drill just not in this case,” Schneider told FOX 8 News in January.

Police interviews with the boy, the coaches, and teammates revealed that the drill was conducted after the 12-year-old missed about 20 minutes of practice because of a health-related bathroom visit.

The interviews revealed that at least one, much bigger, teammate “head and armed him, and took him to the mat hard.”

Teammates told police that the boy was not allowed to defend himself.

“During the drill a teammate slammed the boy to the mat. The 12-year-old got up holding his stomach and he was red in the face,” the statement reads.

A teammate then felt it should have been stopped at that point.

The coaches told police that they had never conducted the drill previously.

From the police report: ” (Coach Nathan Smith) said he had the middle school team line up against the wall, approximately 13-14 athletes and they were to hit a takedown on (the 12-year-old). Nathan indicated that the drill was to make up for what (the boy) had missed while using the restroom.”

But Smith told police that there was no intent of having the boy get hurt by running the drill.

Smith was charged with a misdemeanor count of endangering children.

Assistant coach Jason Lutz was charged with a misdemeanor charge of complicity to commit endangering children.

But just before the case was to go to trial prosecutor Caitlyn Schneider asked the court to dismiss the charges.

Jackmides says he does not know why the charges were dismissed.

“I don’t and that’s what my clients are struggling with, you know? The police officer wasn’t consulted; they were not consulted,” said Jackmides.

“I think the only person who could tell you that would be the prosecuting attorney who is the one who approved the charges. We will never know; she doesn’t have to justify it, after all she represents the State of Ohio; she does not represent the (12-year-old’s family). She does not represent the victim; she represents the State of Ohio,” he added.

“It’s the way that it was so abruptly dismissed without consulting the police officer that makes the (family) feel that their son wasn’t treated fairly, that he should have had his opportunity to tell his side of the story. The emergency room doctor could have obviously shed light on this matter.”

Efforts by FOX 8 to contact Schneider since her decision last week to have the charges dismissed have been unsuccessful.

The Minerva Local Schools released a statement that reads:

“The court has dismissed criminal charges against two coaches in our wrestling program, and our district will move forward. Any further action by Minerva Local Schools will be a matter for the Superintendent and Board’s consideration, and as a personnel matter, we cannot provide further details. The safety and security of all students is a top priority in the Minerva Local School District.”

“The prosecutor had told the (family) that she felt they would get found not guilty if they had a trial and the (family) said, ‘Why? Has the judge told you that he’s going to find them not guilty? No no, no, the judge hasn’t told us that!’ Well, okay. If they get found not guilty, they get found not guilty; that’s the criminal justice system sometimes,” said Jackmides.

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