By CHUCK OFFENBURGER
JEFFERSON, Iowa, Dec. 10, 2015 – For now, I am boycotting Greene County High School boys basketball games, despite how much I normally enjoy them, and despite how much I’ve specifically liked watching our likely All-Stater, Trey Tucker, play ball.
The 17-year-old Tucker, a junior, is in his third consecutive season in the starting line-up and averages more than 20 points per game for his career. He is lightning quick, especially with the ball, is a dead-eye shot and appears to have keen basketball instincts.
But now he faces challenges much bigger and much more serious than basketball.
Tucker stands charged with sexual abuse in the third degree after an incident about 1:30 a.m. this past Aug. 23, in a farm building near the town of Dana, northeast of Jefferson, or north of Grand Junction. Tucker was questioned briefly in the next hours by Greene County Deputy Sheriff David Kersey, who had talked to the alleged victim at the Greene County Medical Center.
TREY TUCKER. (Photo from PrepHoopsIowa.com)
After the deputy completed an initial investigation, Tucker was summoned out of class at the high school on Sept. 2 and arrested. After further investigation, Greene County Attorney Nic Martino on Oct. 13 filed the formal felony charge in District Court that Tucker “did unlawfully perform a sex act with (the victim), by force and against her will.”
Like most media, Offenburger.com will not identify the victims of sexual abuse or sexual assault in stories, unless that victim says she or he is willing to be identified and comment.
This alleged victim is an outstanding young woman, now 18, and with a long list of honors, who is also from this community.
Tucker, through his attorney, pleaded innocent and then asked District Court Judge William Ostlund, of Jefferson, to move proceedings into juvenile court, given Tucker’s age. The judge ordered an investigation by Juvenile Court Services officer Emilea F. Lundberg, of Fort Dodge, and in her Nov. 25 report back, she recommended jurisdiction of the Tucker case indeed be moved to juvenile court. A hearing on the motion for juvenile court was held last Friday, Dec. 4, at the courthouse here, and a ruling is expected soon from Judge Ostlund.
Martino said that if the case does move to juvenile court, an open hearing would be set soon. In that, the county attorney would be prosecuting the charge “as a delinquency,” per normal juvenile court procedures. Judge Ostlund would likely be presiding, since he handles juvenile cases.
Martino added that if Tucker is adjudicated guilty in juvenile court, he could then be under that court’s supervision for up to 18 months after his 18th birthday. But that’s a lot different than the penalty of a mandatory 10 years in prison that would come with a conviction in district court for felony sexual abuse.
Lundberg, the juvenile court services officer, noted in her report that “Trey and his parents presented me with 33 letters from community members, family members, church members and friends. Those letters speak to Trey’s character and support his waiver from district court to juvenile court on the charge at hand.”
Those letters, which are on file in the District Court clerk’s office, came from Chris Conner, Cheree Harp, Pat & Michelle Fields, J.B. Hinote, Judy Murphy, Jill Von Stein, Andy Murphy, Jeff Lamoureux, Jill Lamoureux, Pastor Tom Hinote, Dennis Tucker, Jana Hinote, Linda Bills, Tracy Bills, Jonathan Morlan, Teresa Green, Nicole Bills, Jeramie Hinote, Robert Bills, Martha McAtee, Jamie Boateng, Michael Giles, Sonja Giles, Josh Hinote, Heidi Bills, Michael Bills, Tonia Odden, B.L. Bills, Michael Von Stein, Sarah Wittrock, Linda & Randy Wittrock, Jennifer Woodruff and Ryan Stott. Nearly all are from the Jefferson area.
It is a little overwhelming reading all of the letters, especially when you realize there have apparently been no letters of support for the alleged victim.
Really, the only direct reference to her was by Teresa Green, business education teacher at the high school, who wrote, “I know both of the students involved in this situation. Both are great kids. I do not know what happened, but I do believe it would be better for Trey’s future to be tried as a juvenile.” Earlier in her letter, Green said she knows Tucker’s parents and added, “I know this situation with Trey has been devastating on their entire family.”
TREY TUCKER, in action with the ball, late in his sophomore season of 2014-2015. (Photo by Jefferson Herald, used here with permission)
What the family, friends and others make clear and convincing in their letters is that young Tucker was a really good kid into early adolescence, then had what you might call a rough adjustment in his first two years of high school, and his basketball celebrity was probably part of that.
Juvenile Court Services officer Lundberg’s report notes that while Tucker has no “significant history” of alcohol and drug use, “he admits to some occasional use of alcohol in the past year, and trying marijuana twice over a year ago.”
Jeramie Hinote, the head basketball coach at Greene County High, wrote to the judge that Tucker’s “issue has always been that he was trying to impress people when he didn’t need to.” He went on to say that the boy “once hid behind this arrogant cocky persona not because he felt that was who he was but rather I think he didn’t understand how else to be. He has peeled back all those layers and has found who he is and what he can be.”
You may be surprised to learn that a Trey Tucker, admitted occasional user of alcohol, experimenter with marijuana in the recent past, now charged with sexual abuse, could still be in the starting line-up.
Well, welcome to high school activities in the new era.
Old timers will remember “Good Conduct Rules” dating back to the fall of 1968, when the Iowa High School Athletic Association put into place its legendary rule, applying then only to boys athletics. It was at a time when surveys showed that beer drinking had become commonplace, almost accepted, among high school athletes.
The rule held that if you were caught drinking alcohol, or admitted to it, or were in a car in which alcohol was found, you’d forfeit six weeks of eligibility on your first offense. If teams used a player subsequently determined to have been using alcohol, they’d be forced to forfeit games. In March, 1969, the IHSAA reported that since the preceding September, when the rule went into effect, 3,500 students had been declared ineligible and 10 teams had forfeited 20 football games because of alcohol offenses, most of them involving beer. Can you imagine?
That level of enforcement gradually eased, as underage alcohol use understandably declined, at least among athletes. Then in 1971, several Waverly-Shell Rock football players were caught with beer in a car. One of them pleaded not guilty, and his family filed a lawsuit saying contending that the IHSAA had no authority to enforce conduct rules on Waverly-Shell Rock students. That argument was eventually upheld by the Iowa Supreme Court. And thus ended statewide “good conduct rules.”
Ever since, it’s been up to each school to establish and enforce its own conduct policies. Those rules vary greatly from one school district to the next.
Greene County High School’s eligibility/conduct policy is “the most reviewed policy we’ve ever had,” school board president Teresa Hagen said in a meeting in November, according to a story on the Greene County News Online website. Board member Sam Harding added in frustration then, as the board was beginning yet another review of the rule, “We thought we had this solved. Every time, they come up with something new.”
The latest version of the policy, in effect last summer and fall, held that it would be a violation to engage “in any act that would be grounds for arrest or citation in the criminal or juvenile court system…regardless of whether the student was cited, arrested, convicted, or adjudicated for the act(s).” The penalty would be suspension for one-fourth of the contests or performances the student would’ve been participating in when the violation occurred; or, if the student was not involved in an activity then, the penalty would be enforced in the next activity in which the student wanted to participate.
Now back to Trey Tucker. He had not played football in the fall of 2014, his sophomore year, “due to a car accident,” he told the juvenile court officer. He went on to play basketball and baseball, but he did not report out for football early last August when the rest of the team began workouts.
Then the alleged sexual abuse incident happened on Aug. 23.
On Aug. 24, Tucker told head football coach and activities director Dean Lansman that he had decided he wanted to go out for football after all. Tucker, knowing that he was being investigated leading soon to his arrest, was able to serve a four-game suspension during the football season, and he did that. He went on to have a decent second-half of the football season, playing in the defensive and offensive backfields – remember, this kid is a good athlete.
But what he really did was avoid a suspension during basketball, a sport in which he hopes he has a future. “Troy has high expectation and a sense of purpose to better himself,” Lundberg, the juvenile court officer, wrote in her report. “He would like to attend college and earn a degree, possibly playing basketball to help pay for his schooling.”
College basketball scouts are smart, well-connected and shrewd judges of not only performance, but also of character. They are likely going to be impressed by Trey Tucker’s statistics and by his play. He is genuinely good, a promising player. But those scouts are going to be at least concerned about the sexual abuse charge, however it winds up being prosecuted. They’re also going to be concerned about the earlier use of alcohol and marijuana, and by the charade to maintain his eligibility.
I can think of one thing that might help re-define his character, while also serving as a lesson for many other young athletes.
Tucker should make a stand right now for honor, acknowledge he does not deserve to play this season, turn in his uniform, and bench himself. To stay close to the game, which he should do, he can volunteer to be one of the team’s student managers – and be a good one. Then he could come back for what will hopefully be a great senior season.
Meanwhile, I stand in support of that alleged victim. Her future and her life are just as promising as Trey Tucker’s, maybe more so. No, there have not been 33 people writing letters and rallying around her, as yet. But if a time comes when she needs people standing in support of her, there will be a crowd.
You can email the columnist at chuck@Offenburger.com or comment using the handy form below here.