Settlement reached over allegations of racism at Alta High

Posted at 5:47 PM, Jan 25, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-26 00:48:02-05

SANDY -- The Canyons School District has settled a legal claim filed by a former student, alleging ongoing and ignored racist behavior at Alta High School.

Anthony Armstrong settled his claim -- which stopped short of an actual lawsuit -- for $100,000. Attorneys representing the young man filed a notice of claim against school administrators, coaches and the district in November 2011.

In a complaint released to FOX 13 under a public records request, Armstrong said he began attending Alta High School in his junior year in 2009. His lawyers wrote in the complaint that he endured repeated, abusive comments about his race -- including a number of racial slurs.

In September 2009, a football teammate threatened to lynch him, the complaint stated, asking him "Don't you love the campus here at Alta?"

"When Anthony said yes, he responded, 'Isn't it funny that thirty years ago you would be hanging from one of these trees?' " the complaint said Armstrong was told.

The complaint went on to say Armstrong was targeted by a group of football players who had formed a "white supremacist gang," that called themselves "Rawhide." The gang also targeted other minority students, the complaint said.

"(Name redacted) threatened to kill Anthony, telling him 'I'm going to rope you boy!' while dangling a hangman's noose he had created out of athletic tape in front of Anthony's face as they rode home in a District school bus after a junior varsity football game against Lone Peak," the complaint states.

"Anthony knocked the noose out of (name redacted) hand, but (name redacted) got into Anthony's face and shouted, 'Don't talk to me like that, you n----r! I'll take you any day of the week!' before being separated by teammate (name redacted)."

The complaint alleges that Armstrong reported the abuse to his football coach who told him to "suck it up," and to administrators who ignored him. Then-football coach Les Hamilton denied Armstrong's claims.

"When the allegations were brought to my attention by Anthony, we quickly acted," he said. "We suspended the player who was accused for two games. We held a team meeting talking about racial slurs. It was never brought to my attention again."

The complaint also claims that "Rawhide" targeted other minority students and beat them up. One student was kicked in the head and suffered a seizure, the complaint said. Lawyers claimed the assailant yelled: "That's how we do it in the south, n----r!"

Allegations of racism became public at Alta High School after a spirit assembly in March 2011, when a student donned a white hood in the style of the Ku Klux Klan and shouted "Heil Hitler." Other students told FOX 13 at the time they had been sent text messages with a picture of a Klansman and a cross burning behind him saying "Alta Pride."

The incidents prompted an investigation by the Canyons School District, which implemented diversity programs. The Southern Poverty Law Center also came to the school to conduct trainings on racial sensitivity. The principal at the time of the alleged incidents retired and the assistant principal was transferred to another school.

On Friday, the Canyons School District reiterated the changes it has made since the 2011 investigation.

"It remains our highest priority to ensure an educational environment that is welcoming and safe for all students and employees," the district said in a statement.

Anthony Armstrong graduated in 2011 and is serving an LDS mission. His attorney, Andrew Morse, told FOX 13 they are satisfied with the settlement.

"It's a shame that an African-American kid would be treated this way in the United States. It's very disappointing to him and to his family that this would happen," Morse said Friday.

"We did what we could to let the district know what our claims were. They were very, very responsive to work with us to understand the claims and come up with a remedy. It was the system at its best. These people were peacemakers and we really appreciated what they did for Anthony and his family."

Under the terms of the settlement, neither side admits any liability.