Parents of a high school freshman in Florida have demanded the school board take more accountability and charges be filed after they say their son—a new member of the football team—was brutally hazed in a series of gut-wrenching sexual acts that were filmed and posted online.
Harry and Avanese Taylor say neither Viera High School nor Brevard County Public Schools took any real action for their 14-year-old son, who will not be identified for his safety, until the incident was independently escalated to state and county officials.
“The parents ultimately feel as though… the Brevard County school system failed them as it relates to their son,” Taylor family attorney Anthony Thomas told The Daily Beast.
Rather than school officials sufficiently handling the matter, the Taylor family filed a report with the Florida Attorney General’s Office, who followed up with the state Department of Education, who then got in touch with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Department.
While Viera’s football coaches were in another room reviewing videos during football practice on Aug. 14, Thomas said older members on the team hazed freshmen in the locker room.
“It was at least an hour and a half, two hours while the coaches were in another room reviewing game [footage],” Thomas told The Daily Beast during an interview Thursday. “So, it almost seemed like it was a setup. …There had to be some… understanding that there was going to be some type of hazing.”
Thomas added that the 14-year-old overheard an older player joke about how they were “going to get [them]” that day.
A video of the incident, which The Daily Beast has reviewed but will not share as it involves minors and alleged sexual assault being shown, circulated on social media. A group of students can be seen gathered around one boy in a green jersey on the floor, on his back. Someone flips him over so that he’s in a vulnerable position and unable to move, and repeatedly, one student after another, simulates having sex with the boy. Other students toss condoms on the boy while he’s lying on the floor. Some students look away in disgust.
“That’s bad,” one student says, nearly repulsed and walking away from the camera.
Thomas said the 14-year-old has been cyberbullied in the aftermath, with kids coming to him and asking him if he was the student “raped” in the video.
According to Florida Today, the video gained online traction by Aug. 19. On Aug. 20, the news outlet reported that Brevard County Public Schools Superintendent Mark Rendell suspended all football activities after public backlash, and head coach Shane Staples and players on the team were suspended.
During the suspension, however, Thomas said Staples maintained his job as a teacher, and it’s unclear whether suspended players from the team were also suspended from school.
Avanese Taylor brought up the ordeal at a Aug. 22 school board meeting.
“My son is not a political pawn because football is over for him,” she said. “No matter if the Viera football season is reinstated or not, those players that were involved took that away from him and turned his life upside down when they chose to post it on social media.”
She said the board was only placing a “Band-Aid” on the issue with anti-hazing training.
“I encourage you to think about how this is affecting my son,” Avanese continued. “For me, there is no timeline for justice. And there is no timeline for the emotional trauma that will be left behind when things go back to business as usual for all of you.”
Though the family is Black, Thomas said they do not think that the hazing had anything to do with the son’s race. However, he does think the child’s skin color has played a part with the lack of a response from the school board, which he claims has strong ties to ultra-right wing and Brevard County-founded Moms for Liberty.
“Had [the Taylors’] son had blond hair and blue eyes… I can tell you that entire athletic program would’ve been shut down,” Thomas said, accusing the board of having another priority.
“Football was the most important thing.”
Two weeks after the hazing incident, suspended players were allowed back on the team, local outlet WESH 2 reported.
Thomas says the Taylor family wants more students who were victims of the incident to be comfortable and come forward. The family also wants an investigation into whether Viera High School engaged in negligence and for assault charges to be filed against the students who assaulted their son.
Viera High School, Brevard County Public Schools, and Brevard County Sheriff’s Department all failed to respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment Thursday.