Former Minnesota high school football player pleads guilty to sexually assaulting teammate
Alec Baney's case will remain in juvenile court, but he will receive a stayed adult sentence under the terms of an agreement reached Tuesday.
DULUTH — A former Proctor High School football player pleaded guilty Tuesday to sexually assaulting a teammate in a post-practice incident that he described as "a joke that went too far."
Alec John Baney, now 18, admitted to using a toilet plunger to assault the 15-year-old, who he said he chased down with a half-dozen other teammates following the varsity practice session on Sept. 7.
"I saw a couple people tackled him and then took his pants off," Baney testified at a hearing at the St. Louis County Courthouse. "He was laying on his stomach and I poked him with a plunger."
Rumors of the assault led to the cancellation of the team's season, significant community and social media outcry, a lengthy police investigation and the resignation of the team's coach, among other effects.
Baney, in pleading guilty to a felony count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, agreed to be designated as an "extended jurisdiction juvenile." That means his case will technically remain in juvenile court, but he will also receive a stayed adult sentence.
Judge Dale Harris advised Baney that he will almost certainly remain on probation until his 21st birthday, in January 2025, when the juvenile court's jurisdiction expires. Precise terms and conditions will be determined by Harris at a disposition hearing June 20.
Tuesday's hearing had been scheduled for the judge to consider whether Baney, who was 17 at the time of the offenses, should be certified to stand trial as an adult. But St. Louis County prosecutor Korey Horn dropped that motion, saying the extended juvenile sentence was the appropriate outcome after Baney underwent a psychosexual evaluation, individual family assessment and certification study.
"After consulting with the victim, the victim's family and reviewing all of the evaluations, I believe the community is best served by an EJJ (extended jurisdiction juvenile) designation in this case," Horn said.
Baney, accompanied by his parents, wore a blue suit as he sat at the counsel table between defense attorneys Andrew Poole and Brent Olson. He agreed that the facts alleged in a January juvenile delinquency petition were largely accurate, though he was clearly uncomfortable addressing some of the more graphic elements in open court.
Baney described himself as "pretty good friends" with the victim and said the September incident "started over a Snapchat group thing." He didn't elaborate, as the judge said that was irrelevant, but the petition stated that a third party had sent a lewd photograph to a group of football players using the victim's phone and Snapchat account.
Baney told the court that there were ongoing high jinks in the locker room regarding the plunger. He said players would touch each other with both ends of the tool and joke about "getting the plunger."
On the day in question, Baney admitted that he and a handful of teammates chased the victim from the locker room toward the practice field, with others tackling the boy. He said two others removed the teen's pants before he committed the assault.
"You agree that when you did that, penetration occurred?" Poole asked.
"Yes," Baney replied.
"And you agree that force was used to accomplish that?"
"Was he physically restrained at that time?"
Baney named six fellow teammates who he said were involved in pursuing and restraining the victim, describing the role of each in the incident. He said he didn't specifically tell them how he was going to use the plunger, but claimed they knew of his intent.
"It was a joke that went too far," he said. "Others had talked about it, but it had never been used like that."
The petition, however, had stated that multiple witnesses said they believed Baney was joking until the moment of the assault. After the incident, he reportedly returned to the locker room and declared "I did it" and "I bet you guys didn't think I was going to do it."
Baney said Tuesday that he did not recall what he may have said after the assault.
Although the area was within view of a security camera, authorities said the system was not functioning during the time of the alleged assault. Investigators also said they were unable to identify anyone who acknowledged seeing a recording of the incident firsthand.
While the incident was to remain under investigation by Proctor police, the St. Louis County Attorney's Office has not announced charges against anyone other than Baney. Court records are public only if the suspect was 18 or older at the time of the offense, if felony-level charges are filed against a 16- or 17-year-old, or if a 14- or 15-year-old is certified as an adult.
Horn said after Tuesday's hearing that he could not comment on the status of any other cases that have resulted or may still be filed as a result of the investigation and Baney's plea.