The Denver Police Department announced this week that it was investigating allegations that girls at a high school cheerleading camp had been forced into a painful splits position by their coach and teammates.
The allegations have also resulted in five officials from Denver Public Schools being placed on leave, including the principal, assistant principal and cheerleading coach at East High School, the school system’s superintendent, Tom Boasberg, said in a statement released on Wednesday. He cautioned that those officials should not be prejudged, and that placing them on leave was “standard practice.”
The Police Department said in its statement, also released on Wednesday, that it had “received anonymous information regarding the incidents involving a cheerleader coach at East High School, and Denver Police child abuse detectives immediately began an investigation.”
The announcements came as a widely circulated video showed a 13-year-old girl, an incoming freshman, being forced into the position, with one leg to her front and the other stretched behind her, even as she pleads repeatedly to “please stop” and appears to cry out in pain.
In that video, the cheerleading coach, Ozell Williams, appears to be pushing down on the girl’s shoulders.
In a report this week about the investigation, KUSA, an NBC affiliate in Denver, said that video and others that were sent anonymously to the station show eight cheerleaders being forced into the splits position.
This is Mr. Williams’s first year coaching for East High School, according to KUSA, and this week was the first of East High’s academic year. He is also somewhat of a local celebrity, with thousands of Instagram followers, and is often seen tumbling across the field at both Denver Broncos and University of Colorado football games.
KUSA said it spoke to Mr. Williams on the phone this week, and that he said he had learned the technique growing up, but he declined to say more.
Mr. Williams did not immediately respond to email messages sent on Thursday and could not be reached by phone.
On June 15, Kirstin Wakefield, the mother of the girl seen the video, sent an email to the assistant principal who was put on leave this week, asking what the administration planned to do about the incidents, according to KUSA.
“I have attached a video of the forced splits she and her other team members were forced to do at cheerleading camp and practices; unless they had a doctor’s note,” it read. “My husband and I would like to know what the administration is going to do about my daughter’s injury and how it happened.”
In an on-camera interview with KUSA, Ms. Wakefield said: “This is a grown man pushing my 13-year-old girl so hard against her will, while she’s crying and screaming for him to stop, that he’s ripping tissues in her body.”
Ms. Wakefield and her husband, Eric, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday. It was not clear how seriously injured their daughter was injured.
The Denver Board of Education addressed the matter in a statement on Thursday: “As the elected representatives for Denver Public Schools — and as the moms, dads and family members of D.P.S. students ourselves — we are deeply disturbed by the videos of cheer practices at East High School that came to our attention yesterday.”
“As the investigation continues,’’ it states, “our focus must be entirely on our students, families and educators.”
On Thursday, Mr. Boasberg, the superintendent, released a second statement, saying that counselors at East High School had worked with the cheerleading team and other students to address concerns that morning.
He also said: “We have sent notification to our athletic directors emphasizing that D.P.S. does not allow the use of ‘forced splits’ or any other activity that puts a student’s physical or mental health at risk, or in which a student is forced to perform an exercise beyond the point at which they express their desire to stop.”