HOUSTON – It was on April 18 when Channel 2 Investigates first exposed emails from within the University of Houston’s women’s soccer program, which references were made to the past use of physical punishment within the program.
In an email provided to Channel 2 Investigates by university officials, coach Diego Bocanegra said, “For example, we no longer use physical punishment within our team. I removed it from our weight room manual.” The email designated for a parent was approved by senior associate athletics director DeJuena Chizer, who informed Bocanegra in a response, “Diego, This is good. Thanks."
This email led to a series of reports in June by Channel 2 Investigates focused on a February 2018 workout.
The workout was described by players and parents during our investigation as a “punishment” workout.
It lasted for approximately an hour and included nearly 300 up-downs, planks and shuttle runs, according to multiple individuals who said many on the team were having difficulty understanding what was going on.
The punishment took place after two players on the team were accused of "stealing food from the football players,” according to multiple players and parents. In the days following the workout, a player was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a medical condition in which the kidneys are threatened after muscles are overworked. The condition is potentially deadly. This particular player spent five days in the hospital.
In the midst of Channel 2’s investigation, the University of Houston launched its own probe. The Board of Regents also announcing that UH police will report their findings to the Harris County District Attorney.
What is senior leadership saying?
Sitting down with university leadership has proven to be challenging during the course of our investigation. None of the leaders entrusted with the safety of student-athletes, Bocanegra, athletic director Chris Pezman, and president Renu Khator, will sit down with Channel 2 Investigates for an interview.
Information withheld/redacted email
The University of Houston has sent multiple letters to the state’s attorney general asking for public information Channel 2 Investigates requested not be released.
Khator received an email on Jan. 29. and then forwarded the email without comment to Pezman and the school's general counsel, Dona Cornell.
When the University produced the email to Channel 2 Investigates, large chunks of it were missing. The email Channel 2 Investigates uncovered summarizes a 90-minute meeting on Nov. 9 involving Chizer regarding the February 2018 workout.
What was revealed to UH president Renu Khator in January email?
- The words “punished” or “punishment” are used more than 15 times.
- Nearly 300 up-downs are listed.
- The workout was “without any breaks or water.”
- “Many of the girls cried in pain.”
- Days later, UH trainers were "baffled" over swelling in a player's right arm.
- The player ended up in the emergency room.
- The “player’s kidneys were threatened.”
- Toxins had to be flushed from the player’s system to prevent kidney failure.
- “The player could have suffered irreparable kidney damage or complete kidney failure which could have been fatal.”
- UH was made aware of “out-of-pocket expenses incurred.”
Former prosecutor calls for outside investigation
Rick Flores is a former Travis County prosecutor who has prosecuted nearly a half-dozen hazing cases. He tells Channel 2 Investigates he believes an outside party should investigate this case instead of the University of Houston’s own police force.
"I think it's more appropriate for an outside agency to do the investigation," he said. Flores believes the February 2018 workout fits the Texas hazing statute.
"In this case, we are obviously dealing with serious bodily injury when we are talking about the possibility of a fatality or the impaired loss use of a functioning organ, a kidney in this case," he said.
In March 2015, in the aftermath of hazing allegations on campus, Khator said, "Let me be clear, hazing is a criminal act, and consent is not a defense. Failure to report hazing also is a criminal offense and a violation of University Policy."
The email filled with details of the 2018 workout is the same email Khator forwarded to the UH’s athletic director and general counsel.
When we asked Flores if these officials were required to go to the dean of students, the former prosecutor said, “I believe they were. It explicitly states that not only in the U of H statement but also in the Texas Education Code that you are to go to the dean of students, and nowhere on that chain does it show that the dean of students was made aware of this."
Where do things stand?
The investigation being conducted by the University of Houston’s own police force is still ongoing according to a university official. The district attorney’s office confirmed to Channel 2 Investigates that they have yet to receive anything from the University of Houston.