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East High cheerleading coach fired after video showing 'forced splits,' superintendent says

DPS Superintendent says Coach Ozell Williams has been fired.

Screenshot of video showing forced splits

Late Friday evening, almost two full days after a 9Wants to Know report showing East High School cheerleaders forced into the splits, the Denver Public Schools Superintendent said Coach Ozell Williams has been fired.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg told reporters in a press conference that what he saw in the videos of these cheerleaders was "wrong," and "dangerous and unacceptable."

"We do not permit 'forced splits,' or any practice, or any technique, that puts the physical safety, emotional well-being of any of our kids at risk," Boasberg said.

Boasberg said Williams, a well-known tumbler at Broncos and CU football games, should have been fired after parents made the first complaint in June. The principal and athletic director, who knew about the videos months ago, remain “on leave.” When 9NEWS' Marshall Zelinger asked why they are still employed when Williams is not, Boasberg said that choice is based off of information the district has today.

RELATED: Videos show East High cheerleaders repeatedly forced into splits, police investigating GRAPHIC

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RELATED: In new statement, superintendent says DPS athletic staff notified 'forced splits' aren't allowed

Boasberg said he was unaware the videos existed until 9NEWS’ information requests. In the press conference, he said that a mother of one of the cheerleaders sent a letter to East High School on June 15. Her message included at least one of the videos that have been seen nationally since the 9Wants to Know report this week.

The principal, assistant principal and athletic director met with the girl, her parents and the cheer coaches the next morning. Boasberg said that the administrators believed any concerns had been addressed at that meeting.

“It is now clear they had not,” Boasberg said Friday. “It is also clear that the decision made at that time, not to terminate the employment of cheer coach Mr. Ozell Williams was wrong.”

To his knowledge, Boasberg said, there had not been further communication between that family and the school after that day.

Boasberg added that the video is "extraordinarily disturbing" and should have been reported to police immediately in June.

The superintendent said administrators have been working closely with Denver Police since Wednesday, when a criminal investigation was opened, and the district has asked an outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation of what happened, and who knew about it.

9Wants to Know has found that Williams was fired from Boulder Valley School District prior to DPS hiring him. When asked why Williams was hired, regardless of that fact, Boasberg said Boulder Valley Schools was left off of Williams' application, and the references he provided gave him a positive review.

In addition to other staff members, one member of DPS' legal counsel remains on leave, as well.

"I think that has to do with what communications transpired between the school and the district," Boasberg said to Zelinger. "Someone from the district knew something back in June. And I think part of the investigation is to establish what was known when by whom."

The school does not yet have a new cheer coach. Boasberg didn't directly comment on whether girls seen holding down other cheerleaders in these videos would be punished, but said, rather, that they're working on bringing everyone together.

Since this story aired, there have been reports of cyberbulling for the girls who reported Williams. The superintendent said administrators are dealing with all those incidents as soon as they're made aware.

Boasberg said that he was affected as a father by these videos. He said they shocked and scared his own daughters, who he hopes are empowered to say no if they're in a situation like this.

"On a personal note, as hard as it was, I have watched all of the videos, and as a superintendent, and as a father, and an athlete, they are deeply disturbing," Boasberg said. "I appreciate that our athletes push themselves hard to fulfill our potential, and our coaches play a critical role in this. But that is not what this is about. This was way beyond that line."


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