STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (Reuters) - A county sheriff under fire for how he has handled a high school rape investigation faced down a raucous crowd of protesters on Saturday and said no further suspects would be charged in a case that has rattled Ohio football country.
Ma‘lik Richmond and Trenton Mays, both 16 and members of the Steubenville High School football team, are charged with raping a 16-year-old fellow student at a party last August, according to statements from their attorneys.
Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla, accused of shielding the popular football program from a more rigorous investigation, told reporters no one else would be charged in the case, just moments after he addressed about 1,000 protesters gathered in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse.
“I‘m not going to stand here and try to convince you that I‘m not the bad guy,” he said to a chorus of boos. “You’ve already made your minds up.”
The “Occupy Steubenville” rally was organized by the online activist group Anonymous.
Abdalla declined to take the investigation over from Steubenville police, sparking more public outrage. Anonymous and community leaders say police are avoiding charging more of those involved to protect the school’s beloved football program.
The two students will be tried as juveniles in February in Steubenville, a close-knit city of 19,000 about 40 miles west of Pittsburgh.
The case shot to national prominence this week when Anonymous made public a picture of the purported rape victim being carried by her wrists and ankles by two young men. Anonymous also released a video that showed several other young men joking about an assault.
Abdalla, who said he first saw the video three days ago, said on Saturday that it provided no new evidence of any crimes.
“It’s a disgusting video,” he said. “It’s stupidity. But you can’t arrest somebody for being stupid.”
The protest’s masked leader, standing atop a set of stairs outside the courthouse doors, invited up to the makeshift stage anyone who was a victim of sexual assault. Protesters immediately flooded the platform, which was slightly smaller than a boxing ring.
Victims passed around a microphone, taking turns telling their stories. Some called for Abdalla and other local officials to step down from office for not charging more of the people and for what they called a cover-up by athletes, coaches and local officials.
Abdalla then climbed the stairs himself and addressed the protest over a microphone.
Abdalla said he had dedicated his 28-year career to combating sexual assault, overseeing the arrest of more than 200 suspects.
Clad in a teal ribbon symbolizing support for sexual assault victims, Abdalla later told Reuters that he stood by his decision to leave the investigation with local police. He would have had to question all 59 people that the Steubenville Police Department had already interviewed in its original investigation, he said.
“People have got their minds made up,” he said. “A case like this, who would want to cover any of it up?”
Editing by Daniel Trotta and Eric Walsh