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 repeatedly said, including during his plea hearing, that the incident after practice in September was simply the result of a “joke that went too far”.
“What level of humiliation, degradation or sexual assault is acceptable? the judge asked during a decision hearing on Monday.
Harris did not expect an immediate response from the young man seated before him at the St. Louis County Courthouse. It was a rhetorical question that he hoped the defendant would consider while dealing with the consequences of his actions over the next few 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 third-degree felony sexual conduct charge.
Harris adopted the recommendations of a prosecutor, defense attorney and probation officer in designating the teenager an “extended jurisdictional juvenile”. This means Baney was also sentenced to a four-year adult prison sentence which will remain in effect until he successfully completes his probation.
He must also register as a predatory offender for the next 10 years.
Baney, 17 at the time of the offense, admitted he and six teammates chased the victim from the team locker room to the training ground on September 7. The 15-year-old was tackled, with two teammates stripping his pants and holding him down while Baney assaulted him with a toilet plunger.
Baney described himself as “very good friends” with the victim and said the incident “started with a Snapchat group thing”. He told the court there had been ongoing problems in the locker room over the plunger, with players touching each other with both ends of the tool and joking about “taking the plunger”.
While Baney maintained that others were aware 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 the police that they thought he was joking until the moment of the attack.
Rumors of the incident led to the cancellation of the team’s season, a major outcry in the community and social media, 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 her mother. He said it affected his life “forever” but agreed with the sentence because “I feel like Alec realizes what he did was wrong”.
“Physically I felt bad for a whole week,” the victim wrote. “Obviously it still affects me emotionally. I have to think about it every day. »
Baney, in his own statement to the court, apologized to the victim, his family, friends and others affected by the crime.
“I know I let you all down,” he said. “I will try to build a better future for myself. I am truly sorry for my actions.
Defense lawyer Andrew Poole said while others were implicated in the incident, Baney “appropriated” himself as the only perpetrator to be publicly identified and charged. He submitted 11 letters of support from his family and other community members.
“We hope the worst decision Mr. Baney has ever made doesn’t define him,” Poole said, “and Mr. Baney hopes his horrible decision doesn’t define the victim either.”
Justice Harris said 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 on hazing — acknowledging that it doesn’t make members “tougher,” but rather hurts the morale, discipline and the ability to carry out the mission.
“But people in the sports world seem to feel differently,” he said, adding, “I’m sure you didn’t come up with this on your own or out of the blue one day. A lot of other people bear some responsibility.
Besides classmates who helped chase 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 knew the atmosphere.
“Unfortunately, it’s not unique to football or the Proctor community,” Harris said.
Calling the appropriate sentence in the circumstances, the judge noted that Baney’s age afforded him the 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 crime.
While Baney named six participating teammates during his plea hearing, prosecutor Korey Horn declined to discuss potential charges against others. Harris hinted at Monday’s hearing that others could face consequences in the justice system, but a court records check revealed no public cases against those teammates.