Police will not pursue criminal charges against Bothell High School football players after two investigations this year into allegations of a “culture’’ of players restraining and finger-poking teammates between the buttocks against their will.

During an initial investigation last spring, an 18-year-old student told an on-campus Bothell police officer he’d overheard athletes describe a practice called “Rape Squad,” in which players would yell the words and several would restrain a teammate, pull down their pants and fondle their genitals or poke them.

According to police reports obtained by The Seattle Times, that investigation was closed within days, with the resource officer citing no evidence of a crime, victims or suspects.

But a second police investigation began last month after players returning from a “Camp Bothellhood” overnight football training camp Aug. 21-23 on school grounds described similar behavior.

Records show three players, ages 14 and 15, described being poked while fully clothed, but neither they nor their parents would press charges. All the names in the reports were redacted.

Garrett Ware, the police officer handling both investigations, closed that case Sept. 20, declaring that students viewed the activity as “horseplay’’ and that some of the alleged victims had even jokingly reciprocated.

Advertising

“All parties involved indicated that, although highly inappropriate and potentially criminal, the behavior was done without malicious or criminal intent or sexual motivation,’’ wrote Ware.

As a result of the second investigation, the Northshore School District imposed unspecified student discipline and school sanctions, including potential cancellation of some overnight playoff road trips this season, spokesperson Lisa Youngblood Hall said in a statement.

She added that school administrators and football coach Tom Bainter made plans after the April investigation to “ensure a safe environment’’ for players this season through increased supervision.

Under Bainter, in his 20th season as coach, the Bothell Cougars have been one of Washington’s most decorated football programs, winning the state 4A title in 2014, and missing the playoffs only twice. The team is 6-2 this season and atop the KingCo league’s Crown divisional standings.

Questions to Bainter and Bothell High administrators were forwarded to Hall. Bothell police answered questions sent to Ware.

The case has echoes of another from 2014 at Juanita High School in Kirkland, in which in football players told police that poking in the buttocks was a longstanding football culture knows as a “Jubie” and was part of hazing rituals as well as horseplay. In that case, at least four freshman players pleaded guilty to assaulting a developmentally disabled team manager with a broomstick.

Advertising

Bainter told police last month he’d spoken to players and found no evidence of hazing at Bothell.

“Disturbing and serious” allegations

The first investigation began in March when a Bothell High senior, then 18, told police that while he was at work at a local business he overheard two co-workers, who were also Bothell student-athletes, describe how up to five players at a time would hold teammates down and begin “inappropriately touching” them. They described the practice as “Rape Squad.”

Concerned that they were describing sexual assault, the student, who requested anonymity to avoid backlash, told a school guidance counselor.

In an interview with The Seattle Times, he said he talked to police because, “Everybody thinks that somebody will eventually do something, or that something will get solved by somebody else doing it. But if everybody thinks that, then nothing is going to happen. So, I decided I would just be the person who does it.’’

The student was sent to Ware, the school resource officer, on March 12, and he relayed what he’d overheard, while expressing doubts it was true, according to police records. He told Ware he didn’t know the last names of the two coworkers whom he’d overheard; but the student said in an interview that Ware figured out one of the names.

The student, according to records, later told Ware about an unnamed third co-worker, a freshman on the C-squad team the previous year, who described players holding teammates down, pulling off their pants and molesting them.

But there is no indication in police reports, or in follow-up interviews with Bothell police, that Ware approached any students, football coaches or school administrators about the allegations. It is unclear from the records whether the guidance counselor advised administrators.

On April 3, three weeks after the senior’s initial complaint, his 32-year-old brother emailed police, school and district officials, frustrated his sibling had “already approached two adults and been rebuffed” in his efforts to trigger an investigation.

Northshore Superintendent Michelle Reid replied that day. “The issue(s) you are describing sound both disturbing and serious. I have copied staff who will deal directly with the situation as we are also mandatory reporters” of suspected abuse, she wrote, according to an email obtained by The Times in a public-disclosure request.

That same day, Bothell police opened an official investigation, and the senior who sparked the investigation reluctantly provided Ware the former C-team player’s name.

The next day, the former player confirmed the “Rape Squad” name, claiming 10 to 15 players were on it at any given time, but denied being a victim. He said he’d seen others pinned and their pants pulled down, but with underwear left on and no fondling or poking, and that those who were targeted were laughing.

“I wasn’t going to say that it was consensual or anything, but they were just messing around,’’ the police report quotes him.

Advertising

Once someone is targeted by the “Rape Squad,” the ex-player added, that person would do the same to others. He gave Ware a potential victim’s name and mentioned hearing rumors of players being fondled and poked but denied witnessing it. He also reluctantly named four players as ringleaders.

There is no indication in police reports that Ware interviewed the players named as ringleaders. He did interview two possible victims, including the one named by the C-team player, but both denied anything had happened to them. One said he’d heard the term “Rape Squad” used, as well as rumors about football players pulling off teammates’ underwear and assaulting them with their fingers.

Ware’s supervisor told him to provide the information to school officials and let them investigate further if they wanted. The case was closed April 9, with Ware writing: “I did not obtain a victim nor a suspect(s) relating to the sexual assault allegations.’’ He later met with school administrators.

Bothell police spokesman Sgt. Darren Timpe said the four potential suspects weren’t interviewed in April because, “As a police agency, we don’t interview people based on rumor or innuendo.”

Timpe added that while the former C-team co-worker had provided firsthand knowledge during the April investigation, the victim named by him denied being victimized. As a result, the co-worker’s information on the four potential suspects was deemed unreliable.

Timpe said those four players were not named or interviewed as part of last month’s investigation.

Advertising

“I just want it over”

A second investigation was launched after a player returning from the on-campus “Camp Bothellhood” in August told his mother he’d been poked between the buttocks. School officials conducted their own investigation before notifying Ware on Sept. 3, when he returned from a summer posting off-campus.

Records show Ware, Bothell Principal Juan Price, two vice principals, athletic director Yonni Mills and Bainter reviewed Aug. 22 video footage from the school cafeteria showing player “dog-piles” and some players getting poked in the buttocks. Bainter agreed to improve supervision at next year’s camp; overnight stays next year have been canceled as part of disciplinary measures, Hall said.

One player told police that the buttocks-poking happened “all three years he has been playing BHS football” as part of its “football culture” and “goofing around” between all age levels at practices, camps, school hallways and the parking lot.

In September, Ware later interviewed three students who had been poked, as well as two suspected of carrying out such activity, according to police reports. The pair admitted to the allegation, saying it had been done to them as well, but they said they did it without sexual intent and described it as joking around.

One of the alleged victims said he didn’t like what teammates were doing and asked them to stop, records show. In his official police statement, the player described being poked between the buttocks without consent on three separate occasions — once with multiple players holding him down — but did not want to press charges.

“I just want it over with,’’ he wrote.

Ware’s report shows the mothers of two alleged victims immediately declined to press charges, while another waited three additional days — wanting to first speak to her son and ex-husband about it — before ultimately declining.

Advertising

Ware addressed the entire team and, according to his report, told them such behavior “could be considered sexual assault’’ and to stop immediately. He closed the investigation Sept. 20.

The senior student who first tipped police has since graduated and was unaware of the second investigation or what became of the April one until contacted for an interview. He said he was pleased the issue got serious attention. But he wonders how far back the buttocks-poking dates and the extremes it was taken to.

“It’s kind of crazy,” he said. “Because we don’t know when it started and where it ends.”

You can support local watchdog journalism

Make a tax-deductible donation to The Seattle Times Investigative Journalism Fund, and subscribe to The Seattle Times.