Welcome to our justice system.
Sometimes the system ends up walking away from a crime – not because the system isn’t working, but because it is.
This may be one of those times.
Most of us yearned for indictments in the infamous Hancock Central-Warren County “footbrawl” between the two schools after Hancock’s 21-2 win over Warren County last Oct. 14. The brawl seriously injured Warren County coach David Daniel.
But a Hancock County grand jury Jan. 25 announced it would not indict anyone in the incident.
That appears to be an outrage at first glance. How could no one be guilty of a crime, when someone is hurt so badly by a swinging football helmet that he’s needed hours of surgery?
Well, the grand jury didn’t say there was no crime committed. It has merely concluded that the evidence to prosecute just isn’t there.
Sadly enough, that’s the case in too many crimes: either a lack of evidence – or so much of it that it’s hopelessly conflicting. The latter appears to be the case in this instance.
The good thing, of course, is that the burden of proof – probable cause at the outset of a case, and ultimately beyond a reasonable doubt – means that innocent people are more likely to be protected from wrongful prosecutions.
The other side of the coin is that, sometimes, guilty people walk away – again, so that the innocent among us can too.
It’s maddening, though. Someone ought to go to jail for what happened in this case.
Mercifully, the Georgia High School Association this week put the two schools in separate subregions, vastly reducing the likelihood they will ever play again. Good.
But the association is still looking into the incident, and should consider severe sanctions. The burden of proof in such administrative proceedings is much more amenable to holding people accountable than the criminal code is.
And what about the fact that several Warren County players had previously visited a Hancock Central game against another team just to taunt them outside the locker room – and had to be run off the premises? Were those players allowed to play in the game involving the brawl? One would hope such behavior would be cause for suspension or even dismissal from the team.
Further, are there lessons for the GHSA overall? Isn’t this a huge red flag that we’ve got a tremendous problem with a lack of sportsmanship? One would think this incident alone would be cause for a system-wide assessment and crackdown on unsportsmanlike conduct.
Absent criminal charges, using the brawl as a learning tool statewide would bring something meaningful to the sad affair, and perhaps some meaning to those who were injured.
The grand jury’s findings were dictated by the criminal code. The GHSA has no such excuse. It needs to act, and decisively.