DENVER (CBSNewYork) — It’s disturbing to watch and hear.
“Please stop!” a 13-year-old cheerleader screamed in pain at Denver’s East High School, while her teammates and coach — seen holding her down from behind — forced her into splits.
The freshman student’s mother, Kristen Wakefield, said she was horrified when she saw the video. During the 24-second video recorded by a teammate, her daughter is heard begging her coach to “stop” nine times.
“There was so much trauma it caused a blood vessel to burst on the front of her leg. She’s been in physical therapy, she’s still in physical therapy,” she said. “The therapist has not cleared her yet, because of the injuries she sustained.”
The incident happened in June.
Wakefield said she reached out to school officials, but they did nothing.
Denver police said they were tipped off about the alleged abuse Wednesday.
“Received anonymous information regarding the incidents involving a cheerleader coach at East High School, and Denver Police child abuse detectives immediately began an investigation,” police said in a statement.
Coverage From CBS Denver: Melissa Garcia Reports
Denver Public Schools has now placed five administrators on leave for the investigation, including the school principal, assistant principal, the cheer coach, his assistant, as well as the school’s attorney.
The superintendent released a statement saying, “We do not and will not allow any situation in which a student is forced to perform an activity or exercise beyond the point at which they express their desire to stop.”
There are reportedly additional videos involving as many as eight other cheerleaders being pushed into the splits in practice.
CBS Chicago reported the coach involved in the controversy, Ozell Williams, is a onetime member of the Jesse White Tumblers in Chicago. The team is run by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.
“I’m ashamed, I’m embarrassed,” White told WBBM-TV, CBS2 Chicago’s Dorothy Tucker.
Coverage From CBS Chicago: Dorothy Tucker Reports
His gymnastics program, which emphasizes character and education, has been around for nearly 60 years. It has graduated some 17,000 tumblers and has had few blemishes.
The video of Williams and the cheerleader was tough for White to watch, CBS Chicago reported.
“You cannot force a child to use their limbs if they’re in pain,” says White, the Illinois secretary of state.
Williams, who was a member of the Tumblers 15 years ago, went on to work for the Denver Broncos. He had just been hired as the cheerleading coach at the Denver high school. He was reportedly quoted as saying he’d learned this technique growing up, CBS Chicago reported.
White insisted the Tumblers do not use splits, so Williams didn’t learn it from his organization.
As for the 13-year-old seen in this video, her mother has since pulled her from the squad.