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Empire Editorial: Justice shouldn't come with a price tag

Posted: November 21, 2013 - 1:10am

It’s now appearing as though the criminal case against a former Juneau football coach caught on video knocking one of his players unconscious during a boxing match will in fact be going to court.

The District Attorney’s office in Gold Beach, Ore., decided earlier this week to dismiss without prejudice the case against former Floyd Dryden Middle School math teacher and Thunder Mountain High School football coach John Wahl. The reason, despite what the DA’s office described as “a strong case,” was due to a lack of funds. An outpouring of community support, some in the form of monetary pledges to help fly the youth to Oregon should the case go to trial, was enough to make District Attorney Everett Dial change course. Wahl is now scheduled to be arraigned on Dec. 11.

We feel this case needs to go to trial if there is to be justice for any of the parties involved.

Two men (Wahl and TMHS Falcons head coach Bill Byouer) lost their teaching jobs and had their reputations tarnished as a result of the investigation into the incident. If the situation portrayed in the video was in fact staged, as some community members commenting on the Empire’s website believe it to be, then Wahl deserves to have his day in court to set the record straight and restore his reputation. But if the video evidence proves to be an accurate portrayal of what occurred, that an adult (trusted to mentor young men) acted errantly and immaturely in a way that put a youth under his charge in danger, Wahl needs to accept whatever punishment is handed down.

The video of the event appears to be damning evidence. Though it’s not clear that Wahl was trying to hurt or abuse the teen, it still shows a lack of judgment and leadership. Teachers, coaches, youth group leaders and others in positions of authority over young adults and children must be held to the highest standard. What young people see from the adults around them is what they will imitate later on in life. The Falcons football players who saw one of their coaches acting like a testosterone-filled teenager cannot be allowed to walk away from this incident believing that Wahl’s behavior was acceptable.

The teen’s character was assassinated on the comments page following Tuesday’s story. One person referred to the teen as a “bully,” another said the teen “had it coming.” Whatever problems the teen in question faced before or after the boxing match is a moot point. Being knocked unconscious did not teach the youth any valuable lessons. It was an avoidable mistake that brought embarrassment to the football program, the Juneau School District and our community as a whole, not to mention the adverse affects something like that can have on a teenager.

The bottom line is that Wahl was the adult in the room and should have acted accordingly. Parents who sent their kids to the football camp expected them to learn football skills, not the finer points of slugging it out with one another. The boxing gloves never should have come out in the first place, but once they did, it was the responsibility of every adult chaperone on the trip to put a stop to it — not participate in it. It was poor judgement, plain and simple.

Both sides need to have their day in court. Jobs have been lost, reputations smeared, and, according to the teen’s father, there’s a young man who suffered emotionally and physically as a result. The Gold Beach DA’s office needed to let this case play out and we’re glad it finally will.

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