Denver Public Schools hired a local law firm, Davis Graham & Stubbs, to conduct an independent investigation into allegations of abuse following a 9Wants to Know open records request regarding the use of forced-splits. In the report released today, investigators detailed a timeline of events involving the forced-splits allegations.
June 6 | The day investigators determined the videos were shot.
”It appears a majority of the students participated in the Side Splits Stretch on the morning of June 6, with the assistance of Mr. Williams and in the presence of Zach Watson [a volunteer assistant coach].”
INVESTIGATION | East High principal retires and athletic director resigns
June 15 | East High Leadership receives first video and email regarding the forced splits
Email sent to Principal Andy Mendelsberg and numerous other assistant principals titled “Cheerleading Forced Splits”. The email from a parent stated, “I have attached a video of the forced splits she [referring to Parent 6’s daughter] and her other team members were forced to do at cheerleading camp and practices, unless they had a doctor’s note. This is how [my daughter] injured her leg.”
The email concluded, “[we] would like to know what the administration is going to do about my daughter’s injury and how it happened; besides force us to have a meeting w[ith] my daughter’s abuser?”
Mr. Mendelsberg shared the email to Ms. Porter at 3:10 p.m. in an email that included a question, “what is this?” The report says investigators determined that: “He [Mr. Mendelsberg] read Parent 6’s Letter and opened Video #1 on his phone but it was grainy. Ms. Porter also read Parent 6’s Letter. Ms. Porter also watched some but not all of Video #1, because it was too difficult to watch.”
Mendelsberg and Porter schedule meeting with concerned parents.
June 16 | Scheduled day for meeting with parents of student in cheer video
(prior to the meeting)
Mendelsberg briefs Assistant Superintendent Sean Precious about a cheer situation
Mendelsberg told investigators, “I told [Mr. Precious] I was having a meeting with a family. There is a cheerleading issue around forced splits and communication issues with the coach. I think I can handle the meeting.” Precious told Mendelsberg, “let me know if you need me.” In this meeting he does not mention existence of videos or forced splits. According to the report, “Mr. Precious described Mr. Mendelsberg as seeming ‘irritated’ with the parents coming in that day to address Cheer concerns.”
Athletic Director Texts Cheer Coach
Investigators quote a text sent the morning of the meeting with the parents that said, “Don’t forget about our meeting in Andy’s office at 10 a.m. this morning”. It goes on to say, “Please no forced splits today.”
10 a.m. | East High School leadership meets with family about forced splits
At the meeting are Mr. Mendelsberg, Ms. Porter, Terita Berry (former cheer coach at East), Ozell Williams (current cheer coach), Mariah Claudis and Zach Watson (both current volunteer assistant coaches). Mendelsberg told investigators he reviewed at least “five of the other seven videos” before the meeting. Ms. Porter indicated she “could not watch the other seven videos because the content was too difficult to watch.”
Investigators say both Mendelsberg and Porter said it was “conveyed during the meeting there would be ‘no more forced splits.’” This, according to investigators, was indicated in her hand-written notes but not in a typed email summary sent to the district.
Second family sends email about cheer coach
Porter forwarded this email to Mendelsberg after the 10am meeting. It references an athlete who was quitting the team after claiming to be forced to practice even though she was injured. In the email, the girl’s parent says “The environment that Ozell has created is absolutely toxic.” The email also references “videos of him torturing the girls while trying to ‘help’ them do the splits….that is absolute, blatant abuse.”
It goes on to say, “No means NO. Stop means Stop.”
3:34 p.m. | Mendelsberg briefs Human Resources, denies having videos
According to the report, during this 13-minute call to Saundra Stanfield, Lead Human Resources Business Partner for DPS Mr. Mendelsberg denied having the videos. The report says: “Mr. Mendelsberg mentioned videos, prompting Ms. Stanfield to ask him if he had any videos. Mr. Mendelsberg said he did not.”
4:23 p.m. | Mendelsberg calls Deputy General Counsel Michael Hickman
Mendelsberg and Hickman tell investigators different stories about this unrecorded call. Mendelsberg told investigators he could not remember most of the call, but made the call because of his concern about a video possibly going viral. Mendelsberg told investigators this situation was different because, “To this minute, it is still the most unique situation I’ve handled in 19 years of being an administrator. Most of the situation we could control but there was an outside issue we couldn’t control - the videos.”
Mr. Hickman said Mendelsberg told him that a student, “had been injured during a cheer practice because a coach was pushing on the student while she was doing the splits.” Hickman went on to tell investigators, “[I] indicated to Mr. Mendelsberg, ’You should probably let the coach go.’” Hickman told investigators Mendelsberg replied that the issue had been resolved with the family without firing the coach.
He asks Mendelsberg for a summary email. Mendelsberg assigns this task to Porter.
June 17 | Summary sent to Mr. Hickman and Ms. Stanfield
The email references a video, but investigators note in their report, “[the summary] does not describe the 9 cheer videos or their graphic nature. Nor does it describe Parent 6’s letter that was sent in advance of the meeting, or the allegation regarding the daughter’s ‘abuser’”
August 22 | District learns of existence of video from 9Wants to Know
Denver Public Schools receives email from 9Wants to Know reporter Marshall Zelinger asking for the emails and videos regarding “forced splits”.
August 23 | Mendelsberg/Porter/Hickman put on leave
August 25 | Independent investigation announced, Coach Williams terminated
September 22 | Superintendent announces Principal Andy Mendelsberg retired, Athletic Director Lisa Porter resigned, Deputy General Counsel Michael Hickman reinstated