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Can a Schoolyard Injury Lead to Assault Charges?

cute funny pupils running through school corridor
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 02, 2019

Elementary school games of dodgeball can lead to some hurt feelings and the odd bruise or two. And some have led to some more serious injuries. But assault charges? Against a 10-year-old boy? For "basically playing a game we all have played"?

But that's what happened when Wayne County prosecutors charged Bryce Lindley with aggravated assault after he hit another student in the face with the ball during a dodgeball game at Eriksson Elementary School in Canton Township, Michigan. Were criminal charges really necessary?

Dodging a Conviction

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy eventually decided to drop the assault charge, even though she described the case as "certainly sustainable."

"I have no doubt that both families involved love their children and want the best for them," she said in a statement. "But I do think that there is a better way to go forward at this time."

The injured boy's mother claims he has a medical condition that makes head injuries especially dangerous. “He sustained facial tissue damage to his face," she told WXYZ in Detroit. "He had a black eye and a bruised nose." Medical records showed the child also suffered a concussion, and a police report regarding the incident contends Bryce intentionally targeted the other boy's head. (The children, according to reports, were actually playing "Tips," a dodgeball-like game where kids toss the ball into the air and then jump up and catch it, rather than throw it at classmates.)

"My son was hit twice in the face with a ball previously due to this," the injured boy's mom complained, saying she had reported prior incidents to the school. "The child apologized to my son and my son said, 'mom it's okay we're still going to be friends'."

"I am unaware of any of those situations," Lindley said in response. "I'm sorry that her child got hurt. I'd be sorry for any child that got hurt."

Policing Sport

Charges were dropped in this case, and it is pretty rare for sports to become criminal, even in the professional context. The lone cases where players have been charged with assault are limited to players fighting fans or fighting each other unfairly (like slashing with hockey sticks or sucker-punching). For the most part, athletes are deemed to have consented to a certain amount of physical contact -- and even violence -- and most prosecutors and courts have been happy to allow leagues to police in-game conduct on their own.

"It is my earnest hope that both sides will come back to the table to work out a solution that benefits both of these children," Worthy said when dropping the criminal charges against Bryce Lindley. Maybe taking a break from dodgeball (or any dodgeball-like games) would benefit all parties.

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