Visibly emotional, the plaintiff in the Oak Hills High School hazing lawsuit, now 17, recalled the alleged 2013 locker room assault to ESPN's "Outside the Lines" in an episode that aired Tuesday evening, saying of the aftermath: "It's not something you get over that easy."
"They're holding me down and they just stick in a finger, and they're laughing while they're doing it," Josh Villegas told ESPN of being sodomized by older players. "Then I just fall. They let me go and I just, like, kind of zone out, black — just fall into myself, not knowing what to do."
"Outside the Lines" spent eight months investigating hazing among athletes, and identified more than 40 similar assaults in the past five years in towns and cities in the United States. Villegas' story was one highlighted for the program, and ESPN first revealed the identity of Villegas, a former freshman football player here, who agreed to speak openly and candidly with the network.
In court documents reviewed by the Daily Press since this newspaper first reported two years ago on the suit filed by Villegas' mother, the details of the purported hazing incident had come into focus: At a locker room urinal, the plaintiff is wearing his PE clothes. Then, two boys pin him against a wall and a third pulls his gym shorts to his ankles.
Fingers are entered into the plaintiff's rectum, according to a transcript of his deposition last year, reported by the Daily Press in July.
The suit charges Hesperia Unified School District and Oak Hills officials with creating an environment in which systemic abuse by older football players against younger ones is nurtured, and depositions by the plaintiff's attorney have suggested hazing rituals were not uncommon within the school's football program.
To ESPN, the plaintiff said that getting touched inappropriately was an "everyday thing" for him or someone else in the locker room. Five former Oak Hills High football players came forward to "Outside the Lines," saying that hazing had gone on for years, much of it sexual in nature.
The defendants have adamantly denied a culture of abuse, but also have called the claims raised by the plaintiff "deeply concerning." In answering the complaint, attorneys for the district dismiss the plaintiff's litigation as a "bad faith action which is frivolously filed and known to be such" by the plaintiff and his attorneys.
"We understand the public's concern over these allegations," HUSD Assistant Superintendent David Olney wrote in an email Tuesday to the Daily Press. "Student safety is our utmost concern."
Olney added that the district was unable to comment on pending trial matters due to student confidentiality rights, "but we trust that the process will shed light on what truly happened and ask the community to hold judgment until that time."
School officials declined to speak to ESPN.
Hesperia Mayor Bill Holland, who was a district police officer at the time and lead investigator into the subsequent report taken, also appeared Tuesday on "Outside the Lines" and defended the two-day investigation, which ultimately died after it was unable to identify suspects or produce further leads. Holland also noted "inconsistencies" in the plaintiff's statements, but didn't offer assumptions as to why the plaintiff might make it up.
He called it "insulting" to suggest his role as a former volunteer football coach — spanning three seasons, ending before the purported incident — had in anyway constituted a conflict of interest. He said he would commonly "have to deal with students, didn't matter what they were."
Pressed about an investigation that began on a Friday and ended on a Monday, with the weekend taken off, he told ESPN investigative reporter John Barr that it was not a flubbed case as he stood by his 31-year law enforcement record.
"Two days worth of investigation?" he said, then pausing. "I'd say that's pretty thorough."
Holland, who voluntarily resigned six months before the plaintiff's attorney Skye L. Daley began investigating, declined an opportunity by this newspaper to further comment Tuesday. But he also told ESPN accusations that abuse was systemic and allowed by officials was "bologna."
"Outside the Lines" obtained video depositions of school officials suggesting similar incidents were never reported to them, but at least two of the former football players to come forward to ESPN rejected that notion.
Daley told the Daily Press by phone Tuesday that "things aren't going to change until the taxpaying public knows what's happening at these institutions," whether it be school districts or churches.
"Abuse of power and acts like hazing or covered-up child sexual abuse," he said, "those things are able to exist and to thrive when they are done secretly and private without the public's knowledge."
The plaintiff told ESPN that by stepping out in the spotlight, he was saying "enough's enough." A senior now, he transferred out of the district shortly after the alleged incident, and his family has since moved from the High Desert, but he said on Tuesday's program that he continues to have nightmares.
Meanwhile, Daley revisited in court Friday attempts to compel HUSD Superintendent David McLaughlin to testify under oath about his knowledge of the alleged incident. Previously this year, the district's attorneys were successful in having a protective order issued to keep McLaughlin from being deposed, saying he had no unique or superior knowledge of the case.
But in Friday's court filing obtained by the Daily Press, Michael Graham, the former police chief at HUSD, testified that he personally informed the superintendent's office of the sexual hazing accusations.
"Well, I wanted the superintendent to be aware of what was going on and that more than likely, the press would end up finding out about it," Graham said during an Aug. 11 deposition at the SpringHill Suites hotel in Hesperia, "and that way they could at least not be blind-sided by — by anybody calling for a statement or anything like that."
The deposition transcript is heavily redacted, but Daley argued that the testimony and further discovery show "that Mr. McLaughlin is not only a mere percipient witness, but that he has personal, firsthand knowledge and involvement" of the investigation and more.
The district's attorneys have yet to respond to Friday's filing and the challenge to McLaughlin's protective order.
There have been nearly two dozen depositions of lower-level district employees since the lawsuit was filed.
During his deposition last month, Graham was asked what he would conclude, if anything, or what he would be concerned about.
"If something like that happened, if I had found out about it," he said, "it would show that — that there's a cover-up."
A trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 26, and opening arguments could begin next month, court records show.
Shea Johnson can be reached at 760-955-5368 or SJohnson@VVDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DP_Shea.