FRESNO, Calif. -- A day after being expelled, a Buchanan High student apparently has decided to resolve his criminal case by taking part in a mediation session with the teammate he is accused of sexually assaulting during wrestling practice.
Thursday evening, Preston Hill, 17, and the Buchanan freshman who is the alleged victim in the case arrived at the Juvenile Justice Campus south of Fresno to settle their differences.
They were joined by Fresno County Superior Court Judge David Gottlieb, prosecutor Rudy Carrillo and others for a session that is the first step for Hill in getting his sexual-battery charge dismissed.
The mediation session was organized by members of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department's SHARE program. SHARE stands for Stop Hate and Respect Others.
The gathering was a breakthrough for the District Attorney's Office, which has had to defend itself against accusations of overzealous prosecution.
Elana Smith, a deputy district attorney who had filed the charge against Hill, was under pressure because her boss, District Attorney Elizabeth Egan, wanted the case dismissed, said a person with detailed knowledge of the case, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In the end, it appears they came up with a politically palatable solution.
Former Fresno County District Attorney Ed Hunt said Thursday he thought it was fair.
Hunt said Smith "is a great, ethical attorney" who would not file a charge unless she believed she could prove it in court.
"I always had great confidence in her," said Hunt, who hired Smith about 12 years ago.
No one disputes that Hill grabbed his teammate's butt cheek to execute a wrestling move called the "butt drag" during a July practice at Buchanan High.
The teammate, however, told Clovis police that Hill rammed two fingers into his anus.
Hill has denied the allegation, telling police he employed a legitimate wrestling move in order to motivate his teammate to wrestle.
Wednesday night, the Clovis Unified school board expelled Hill after a school panel concluded that Hill had sexually assaulted his teammate and had bullied him.
The panel also found that Hill committed an obscene act and caused or attempted to cause physical injury to his teammate.
Hill and others connected to the case are prohibited from speaking publicly because Gottlieb has issued a gag order. But sources say Gottlieb helped Smith broker a settlement that doesn't require Hill to admit guilt.
Instead, all Hill has to do to get the charge dismissed is attend Thursday's mediation session, apologize to his teammate and write an essay about his experience, said a person with knowledge of the agreement.
The goal is to have Hill complete the essay before his Jan. 27 trial, the source said.
About 5:15 p.m. Thursday, Hill's parents, Darren and Kristin Hill, dropped off their son at the Juvenile Justice Center. The teammate was dropped off at the campus about the same time.
There they took part in the SHARE mediation program. Before the session started, Los Angeles sheriff's division chief Neal Tyler said Gottlieb invited him and his crew to Fresno, but the judge didn't say what the case was about.
For the session, Neal brought the department's custom-built, 70-foot mobile theater that allows him to show participants a 35-minute film on hatred and intolerance.
Because the session was supposed to be private, Neal said, the judge asked him to park the vehicle inside the locked Juvenile Justice compound -- out of the public's view.
Absent from the session were Hill's parents, as well as the parents of the teammate.
Hill also had rejected a previous prosecution offer to get the charge dismissed. That offer required him to apologize to his teammate, attend counseling and stay out of trouble for six months, one of his attorneys said before the gag order.
It's not immediately known why Hill changed his mind and accepted the latest offer.
Thursday night, Hill and the alleged victim went to the session in separate cars driven by their supporters. In an e-mail obtained by The Fresno Bee, the alleged victim's mother told authorities that her son was looking forward to the session because his goal is to speak at schools and educate others about the dangers of bullying.
The mother also praised Smith for remaining "a strong part of this case" and carving out a solution.
The session will be an opportunity for Hill "to look at himself and not allow this to happen to others," the mother said.
"I am very much at peace," she said.
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