Duluth News Tribune, Minn.
Jun. 20—DULUTH — Judge Dale Harris said he was troubled by how Alec John Baney characterized his sexual assault of a Proctor High School football teammate.
Baney had stated on several occasions, including at his plea hearing, that the post-practice incident in September was simply the result of a “joke that went too far.”
“What level of humiliation or degradation or sexual assault is acceptable?” the judge asked at a disposition hearing Monday.
Harris wasn’t expecting an answer on the spot from the young man seated before him at the St. Louis County Courthouse. It was a rhetorical question he hoped the defendant would consider while facing the consequences of his actions over the next several years..
Baney, 18, was placed on supervised probation until his 21st birthday in January 2025 after pleading guilty in juvenile court last month to a felony count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct.
Harris adopted the recommendations of a prosecutor, defense attorney and probation officer in designating the teen as an “extended jurisdiction juvenile.” That means Baney also received a four-year adult prison term that will remain stayed as long as he successfully completes probation.
He also must register as a predatory offender for the next 10 years.
Baney, 17 at the time of the offense, admitted that he and six fellow teammates chased the victim from the team’s locker room to the practice field on Sept. 7. The 15-year-old was tackled, with two teammates removing his pants and restraining him while Baney assaulted him with a toilet plunger.
Baney described himself as “pretty good friends” with the victim and said the incident “started over a Snapchat group thing.” He told the court that there had been ongoing high jinks in the locker room regarding the plunger, with players touching each other with both ends of the tool and joking about “getting the plunger.”
While Baney maintained that others knew of his intent with the plunger, he acknowledged that he did not specifically tell his teammates what he planned to do and other witnesses told police they believed he was joking around until the moment of the assault.
Rumors of the incident led to the cancellation of the team’s season, significant community and social media outcry, a lengthy police investigation and the resignation of the team’s coach, among other ramifications.
The victim submitted an impact statement, which was read in court by his mother. He said it’s affected his life “forever” but that he was in agreement with the sentence because “I feel like Alec realizes what he did was wrong.”
“Physically, I felt terrible for a whole week,” the victim wrote. “Obviously, it’s still affecting me emotionally. I have to think about it every day.”
Baney, in his own statement to the court, apologized to the victim, his family and friends and others who have been impacted by the crime.
“I know I let you all down,” he said. “I will try to make a better future for myself. I am truly sorry for my actions.”
Defense attorney Andrew Poole said that while others were involved in the incident, Baney has “taken ownership” as the only perpetrator to be publicly identified and charged. He submitted 11 letters of support from family and other community members.
“We hope that the worst decision Mr. Baney has ever made will not define him,” Poole said, “and Mr. Baney hopes that his horrible decision won’t define the victim, either.”
Judge Harris indicated the case was indicative of the all-too-common occurrence of bullying, particularly in high school sports.
Harris, a former U.S. Navy judge advocate, described how the service branch instituted a zero tolerance policy toward hazing — recognizing that it doesn’t make members “tougher,” but instead hurts morale, discipline and the ability to carry out the mission.
“But people in the world of sports seem to feel differently,” he said, adding: “I’m confident that you did not come up with this on your own or out of the blue one day. A lot of other people bear some responsibility.”
Aside from the fellow students who helped chase down the victim, the judge said there were bystanders who likely could have intervened, coaches who failed to quell a “toxic environment” in the locker room and parents who had knowledge of the atmosphere.
“Unfortunately, this is not unique to football or the Proctor community,” Harris said.
Calling the sentence appropriate under the circumstance, the judge noted that Baney’s age affords him an opportunity to demonstrate change while holding him accountable through the prospect of having to serve prison time.
Among other conditions, Harris ordered Baney to undergo psychotherapy, write a letter of apology to the victim, complete 80 hours of community service and attend school or work full time.
Juvenile court records and hearings are public when the defendant was 16 or 17 at the time of the offense and is charged with a felony.
While Baney named six participating teammates at his plea hearing, prosecutor Korey Horn declined to discuss potential charges against any others. Harris hinted at Monday’s hearing that others could face consequences in the judicial system, but a check of court records did not reveal any public cases against those teammates.
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