Denver Police are investigating incidents related to videos that show high school cheerleaders being held down into an extended split position, many of them screaming in pain.
According to NBC affiliate 9News, videos obtained by the station show eight different East High School cheerleaders being pushed down by others, including their coach Ozell Williams, into splits while their arms, also extended, are held up by teammates, rendering the girls immobile. The videos were taken by two other cheerleaders during the first week of cheer camp in June.
In one of the videos, a 13-year-old girl resists as the others try to hold her down, saying “no” repeatedly and “I can’t,” before crying, “please, stop,” multiple times. The same girl told 9News that she sustained a leg injury because of it.
Despite the videos recently being sent to the news station, school administrators were sent one of the videos of June. Williams, the assistant cheer coach, the school’s principal, assistant principal, and Denver Public Schools athletic director have all been placed on leave. Parents have allegedly launched complaints for months, but it wasn’t until after the news station reached out for questioning on Aug. 22 that the Denver police launched an investigation the following day.
Two of the girls in the videos and one who wasn’t recorded came forward to speak about their experiences and said that Williams pushed down on their shoulders and thighs to force them into the extended splits, sometimes putting his knee on their back to keep their postures straight. One of the girls said she cried so hard, she couldn’t breathe.
This is Williams’ first year as a coach at the school. He’s a cheer figure in Denver and has cheered for the University of Colorado and the Denver Broncos, according to 9News. Williams said he learned the extended splits technique while growing up in Chicago and New Orleans.
In a statement sent out to staff and parents, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg said he didn’t become aware of the videos until Wednesday. The school is also offering counseling on Thursday to students affected by the incident.
“With regards to certain videos, I cannot state strongly enough—as the superintendent of the school district and as the father of two high school-aged daughters—that the images and actions depicted are extremely distressing and absolutely contrary to our core values as a public school community,” Boasberg wrote.