April 21st, 2024

Chinook football player enters not guilty pleas

By Delon Shurtz - Lethbridge Herald on February 29, 2024.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDdshurtz@lethbridgeherald.com

Another member of the Chinook High School football team who is accused of assaulting a fellow student, has entered pleas to several criminal charges.

During a brief hearing Wednesday in Lethbridge youth court, Lethbridge lawyer Justin Dean pleaded not guilty on behalf of the boy to charges of sexual assault with a weapon, assault with a weapon and unlawful confinement.

The teen is the third student and member of the football team to plead not guilty. Lawyers for two other boys entered their pleas two weeks ago. At the same time the charge of assault with a weapon against a fourth boy was replaced with common assault, and the downgraded charge was referred to extrajudicial sanctions, a diversion program that holds a young person accountable without proceeding through the formal court process.

The downgraded charge is a summary offence, which is considered less serious than an indictable offence.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Lethbridge lawyer Miranda Hlady said she received confirmation that the “team” involved in the diversion program received the referral information earlier this week, and her matter was adjourned to March 27 to allow time to complete the intake process.

Extrajudicial sanctions are often considered appropriate for first-time, non-violent offenders, and although a young person must accept responsibility for the offence, the admission does not require a guilty plea.

Dean, who was acting as agent for Lethbridge lawyer Greg White, said during Wednesday’s hearing that at least two days will be needed for a trial, and the matters for the other three boys were also adjourned to March 27 to allow time to schedule a pre-trial conference.

A pre-trial conference allows the Crown, defence and a judge to discuss issues with a case, find ways to streamline the trial, and schedule trial dates.

Police reported that on Oct. 3 of last year a boy was forcibly confined and sexually assaulted in a locker room at the high school after school hours. The following day police searched the school and seized what they described as a “weapon,” although they didn’t provide a description.

“There is no evidence to suggest any ongoing risk to other students in the relation of this matter and the school remains open,” Staff Sgt. Pete Christos said during a news conference Oct. 10. He added the incident was not part of a hazing, and no other members of the football team were involved.

The four boys, who are under 18 years of age and cannot be identified, were charged several days after the Oct. 3 incident, then released from custody and ordered not to have any contact with the victim. They were not required to attend court on Wednesday.

The Crown previously said it will proceed by indictment, which is more serious than summary procedure and carries higher penalties.

The Lethbridge School Division, which consulted with an expert in trauma response, cancelled its football program for the season.

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