Covington Catholic students did not instigate D.C. incident, church investigation found.

Dozens of teens criticized over treatment of Native American veteran at Lincoln Memorial

Covington-Catholic students were criticized over the treatment a Native American elder received when he tried to walk through the group. Nick Sandmann said he -- and his classmates -- were not mocking the man or blocking his path.
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Covington-Catholic students were criticized over the treatment a Native American elder received when he tried to walk through the group. Nick Sandmann said he -- and his classmates -- were not mocking the man or blocking his path.

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Covington Catholic

Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann came face to face with Native American elder Nathan Phillips in Washington, D.C., launching a national story with repercussions.

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A Diocese-arranged investigation found Covington Catholic students did not instigate an encounter with a Native American in Washington D.C. and the classmates did not make racist remarks, according to the firm’s final report .

The Diocese of Covington previously announced it launched the investigation to look into what happened last month at the March for Life rally. Greater Cincinnati Investigation, Inc. conducted interviews with students and chaperones and reviewed videos.

Viral videos showed Covington Catholic students reacting to Native American elder Nathan Phillips. Phillips said his path was blocked by one of the students shown in videos standing for an extended period in front of him, but the student Nick Sandmann, said he and his classmates did nothing wrong as Sandmann tried to prevent the situation from escalating. Before the interaction with the elder, the students’ were subjected to a small group of Black Hebrew Israelites whose remarks were described as offensive.

Greater Cincinnati Investigation said it was not allowed or able to speak directly with Sandmann, Phillips or one of the people who shot video.

“The immediate worldwide reaction to the initial video led almost everyone to believe that our students had initiated the incident and the perception of those few minutes of video became reality,” Bishop Rev. Roger Foys said in the letter to parents. “In truth, taking everything into account, our students were placed in a situation that was at once bizarre and even threatening.”

The diocese apologized Jan. 19 to Phillips and said,” We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general, Jan. 18, after the March for Life, in Washington, D.C.” But it reversed course previous to the investigation’s results.

Greater Cincinnati Investigation investigators spoke with nine faculty chaperones, four parent chaperones and 43 students, the firm said in its report. It said it was supposed to identify and interview third-party witnesses who were present, but the company did not specify in one version of the final report how many, if any, third-party witnesses were found.

The investigators also reviewed around 50 hours of internet activity, including videos that were posted on Twitter and YouTube.

There was no evidence shown that Covington Catholic students said any offensive or racist remarks to Black Hebrew Israelites who made derogatory remarks to the teenagers, the report stated. Sandmann said in a previous statement those Black Hebrew Israelites called students “racists,” “bigots,” “white crackers,” “faggots,” and “incest kids.”

The investigation also concluded that no offensive or racist statements were said by the students to Phillips after he approached them and banged a drum in front of Sandmann. There was also no evidence the students performed a “Build the Wall” chant, as Phillips described at one point.

Despite the investigation team reaching out to Phillips multiple times through phone and email, and later in his hometown, Phillips never responded to requests for an interview, the company said. His public interviews contained some inconsistencies, according to the investigation report.

Some students were shown in videos wearing MAGA hats, but there is no evidence of a school policy that prohibits political apparel on school-sponsored trips, according to the report. It also stated some students wore “Hope” hats in support of President Barack Obama in years past.

Regarding another viral video showing a teenager saying “It’s not rape if you enjoy it,” investigators determined the person in the video was not from Covington Catholic.

Foys said in his letter to parents the report “exonerates our students so they can move on with their lives.”

“These young high school students could never have expected what they experienced on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial while waiting for the buses to take them home,” Foys stated. “Their stance there was surely a pro-life stance. I commend them.”

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Mike Stunson covers breaking news and real-time news for the Lexington Herald-Leader and He is a 2011 Western Kentucky University graduate who has previously worked at the Paducah Sun and Madisonville Messenger as a sports reporter.