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No criminal charges filed in cheerleading splits video, Denver DA says

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Posted at 5:39 PM, Oct 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-15 12:09:04-04

DENVER -- No criminal charges will be filed in a controversial case that came to light after a video showed cheerleaders at East High School being forced into splits in late August, the Denver District Attorney's Office announced Saturday. 

“The video of the incident involving the injured student that has been widely disseminated is painful to watch," said Denver District Attorney Beth McCann in a statement. "However, after a very thorough and careful review of all of the evidence gathered in the investigation and the statements of many members of the cheerleading squad, I have concluded that the evidence does not support the filing of criminal charges. In order to prove a charge of criminal behavior, the case must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt."

McCann went on to say, "While I believe the [forced splits] technique should not be used, that is not the standard of proof for a criminal case. Most of the cheerleading squad participated in the technique that day, and there are differing accounts of the circumstances."

WATCH:Disturbing video shows Denver cheerleaders being forced into splits

McCann added that the decision followed a detailed investigation conducted by the Denver Police Department over several weeks, which included dozens of interviews with East High School's cheerleading team, cheerleader families, school staff and others.

The decision by the Denver District Attorney's Office comes nearly a month after Denver Public School District officials announced the retirement of East High School principal Andy Mendelsberg as well as the resignation of assistant principal Lisa Porter. Both were among five school officials placed on administrative leave following the release of the video, which showed an East High School cheerleader crying out in pain as the cheer coach held her into a split position.

Ozell Williams, the cheer coach seen in the video, was fired by the district a day after the video went viral.

An independent investigation led by an outside firm described in painful detail over multiple months how Mendeslberg and Porter failed to take sufficient actions to ensure the emotional and physical health of students in the cheerleading program.

The two also failed to take allegations of physical emotional abuse against Williams seriously, including allegations Williams bullied and humiliated girls during practice. Students also alleged Williams forced injured girls to practice, but nothing was apparently done, the report stated.

DPS Deputy General Counsel Michael Huckman and East High School assistant cheer coach Mariah Cladis, were both reinstated following the investigation.

"Our top priority has been, and will continue to be, the safety and well-being of our students," said a DPS Superintendent spokesperson in a statement sent to Denver7. "In support of this, and to allow our students to continue healing, we would ask news media to refrain from showing videos of the "forced splits" in covering this issue."

Qusair Mohamedbhai, a lawyer for two of the families whose daughters are in the cheerleading team, sent Denver7 the following statement late Saturday afternoon: 

"While the families disagree with the decision of the Denver District Attorney’s Office, they appreciate the kindness and genuine concern demonstrated by DA Beth McCann through this difficult process.  The families are determined to ensure no other student athletes are subjected to any form of abuse at the hands of adults entrusted with their care."

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