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Police report filed against wrestling coach for ‘abusive behavior’

Crime Watch

CHALLIS — The head coach of the Teton High School wrestling team has been accused of assaulting two student wrestlers in a hotel room where they were staying for a wrestling tournament in Challis.

The incident involving coach Jeff Wilkes was detailed in a Custer County Sheriff report filed in February 2022.

The report contains handwritten statements from seven Teton High School wrestlers and the coach. The documents were obtained by EastIdahoNews.com through a public records request filed on June 10.

Wilkes is also being investigated by the Teton County Sheriff’s Office. The cases in Challis and Teton County are not related, said Teton County Sheriff Clint Lemieux last week. EastIdahoNews.com has confirmed with Lemieux that suggested charges for the Teton County investigation have been sent to the Teton County Prosecutor’s Office, where they currently remain under consideration at this time.

Wilkes has not been teaching or coaching with Teton School District 401 since February. He did not return a request for comment.

In the Custer County Sheriff’s report, Teton High School students claimed that what might at first have been light-hearted roughhousing after a student allegedly mouthed off to Wilkes quickly took a concerning turn. It is alleged by multiple witnesses that Wilkes choked a student with a wet washcloth and kicked and beat another student with his closed fists.

“(We) were joking and laughing at first, but then I realized that was a bit much,” wrote a student in the report about what was transpiring in the hotel room between Wilkes and the students. “Wilkes then gets up, kicks him in the hip/rib area, and starts hitting him in the belly, chest, back and kidneys. And not soft — two hands one after another with a closed fist,” wrote a student in the report.

Another student wrote, “Wilkes kinda threw him on the ground, and at this point, I thought (Wilkes) was just messing around like he always does, but then he started punching (the student’s) back and at this point, u (sic) could tell that everyone thought that (Wilkes) was taking it way to far.”

A video sent to EastIdahoNews.com, shows part of the incident that occurred in the hotel bathroom. In the video, the student can be seen on the bathroom floor, and Wilkes can be seen through the bathroom mirror wetting a towel in the sink while standing over the student. The 32-second video shows Wilkes with a hand towel being held against the student’s neck and then mouth with Wilkes using both of his hands to hold the towel at each end. Other students can be heard in the background laughing from outside of the bathroom.

An additional photo sent to EastIdahoNews.com shows red marks on the back of the second student, whom Wilkes kicked and hit six to eight times, according to student statements in the police report.

Parents from the Teton High School wrestling team were called but declined on-the-record interviews with EastIdahoNews.com.

No charges were filed through the Custer County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Custer County Sheriff’s Office Administrator Liz Preston relayed a message to EastIdahoNews.com last week saying that Custer County Deputy Trevor Downey did not pass the case onto Prosecuting Attorney Justin Oleson, adding that the Teton High School administration told the deputy they would handle the incident “in-house.”

According to the Challis report, Vice Principal Brody Birch received an email on Monday, Feb. 7, from the assistant wrestling coach alerting the administrator to the incident over the weekend. In the email, the assistant coach attests that he witnessed Wilkes punching a student in the back multiple times.

According to the Challis report and confirmed by Sheriff Lemieux, Teton High School Principal Sam Zogg called Lemieux on Feb. 8 and asked how he should handle the complaints surrounding the incident in Challis. Lemieux advised Zogg to call the Custer County Sheriff Office. After a call to Challis, Zogg sent 16 pages of typed and handwritten statements from coaches, a parent and the students regarding the Feb. 4 hotel incident to the Custer County Sheriff’s Office.

Birch and Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme gave no comment to EastIdahoNews.com. Zogg did not answer his cell and referred EastIdahoNews.com to Woolstenhulme for comment via text.

Parents demand answers

In the Challis report, Wilkes repeatedly wrote that what had transpired that evening was all in jest between a coach and members of the wrestling team. He offered in his statement that “we needed to set better boundaries so it doesn’t get to that point again.”

Many of the statements in the report from students show that Wilkes did try to offer an apology that same evening. One student said Wilkes apologized to some of them the next day at the wrestling tournament.

After Zogg had reached out to the Custer County Sheriff’s Office, Wilkes did not return to school or to coaching. According to public documents, in April the Teton County School Board accepted Wilkes’ resignation with a contractual end date of August 2022.

In documents obtained by EastIdahoNews.com, Zogg responded to parents’ concerns regarding the status of the school’s investigation into the Challis incident and Wilkes’ standing with his position at the school.

In Zogg’s response dated March 18 and copied to Birch and Woolstenhulme, Zogg writes that while conferring with the school district’s legal counsel, Wilkes will not return to the school in any capacity — as a teacher or as a coach — and Zogg wrote that the case was closed.

In the meantime, Wilkes still continues to receive a paycheck from District 401. Additionally, Wilkes received a bonus, which was given to all teachers, from the district in April and in May, according to district records.

Wilkes was offered a teaching position and head wrestling coach job in Thermopolis, Wyoming, in April. The offer was rescinded on May 19, according to public documents. Thermopolis Superintendent Dustin Hunt did not return a call for comment; however, in the same Custer County Sheriff report where Zogg had made his first report in February, it is noted that Hunt called that sheriff’s office on May 4.

Teton County School Board Chair Shannon Brooks-Hamby declined to comment on the Challis incident.

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