DENVER — An East High School cheer coach seen in a now viral video depicting a cheerleader crying out in pain as he holds her into a split position was fired by the school district Friday as an ongoing investigation of child abuse is underway.
Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg said Friday evening during a press conference that the district made the decision to fire Ozell Williams, the school's cheer coach, after district officials were made aware of the videos this week and were "compelled" to terminate Williams based on the information district officials had as of Friday afternoon.
“The decision made not to terminate the employment of cheer coach Mr. Ozell Williams was wrong,” said Boasberg, adding he nor any members of his senior team were aware of the videos or the practice of forced splits at East High before this week. "The decision should have been made to terminate the employment of Coach Williams and I believe, to report what was observed in the video to the police."
The district also made the decision to employ an outside law firm to perform an independent investigation "of exactly who knew what, when, both at the school and district level with regards to the practice of forced splits in the cheer team, the safety of the students and the concerns of the parents."
Boasberg said the school was aware of the forced split practice after a mother from one of the cheerleaders sent a letter to the athletic director on Thursday, June 15, with one of the videos attached with the letter.
He said East High Principal Andy Mendelsberg, along with the athletic director and an assistant principal met with a cheerleader, her parents and cheer coaches and said school leadership "believed they had addressed and resolved the parent's and student's concerns."
"We were wrong not to have taken certain actions in June," Boasberg said.
Answering a question from a reporter at the press conference regarding similar problems raised by at least one parent during his tenure at the Boulder Valley School District, the superintendent said Williams had submitted all proper documentation before he was hired by East High and had even been given positive recommendation from previous employers.
"He did not, to my knowledge, submit any information of ever having worked for the Boulder Valley School District nor to my knowledge was he ever an employee of the Boulder Valley School District."
Forced splits video comes to light two months after incident
The distressing video of cheerleaders being forced into splits came to light Wednesday night after Denver Public Schools sent a statement to Denver7 regarding "an exercise used at cheer practices this summer" that put the "physical and mental health of students in jeopardy."
In the video, Williams is seen holding down one cheerleader in a forced split as she begs to be released.
Kirsten Wakefield, Ally's mother, said the video was shot on June 6, and explained she consulted with a doctor after her daughter's leg was injured during the cheer practice.
"When Ally showed me this video, and five others of different teammates, I couldn't stop crying after witnessing the pain and abuse they were suffering," Wakefield said.
Wakefield said what concerned her nearly as much as the alleged abuse was that the coach reportedly told players never to share videos taken in practice outside of practice and never to anybody off the team.
Williams' actions have been condemned by national organizations, and were denounced Friday by school officials.
East High Principal Andy Mendelsberg and the high school's athletic director remain on administrative leave as the district, along with the Denver Police Department, continue their investigation into this case. They will remain on leave until the conclusion of the investigation.
Watch the press conference from earlier today below.