SPARTA, Ga. — A Hancock County grand jury decided that “no indictment be returned against anyone” involved in the Oct. 14 postgame fight between the Hancock Central and Warren County football teams.
The grand jury met Jan. 25 and announced its decision at the county courthouse regarding the brawl that occurred after the 21-2 Warren County win at Hancock Central that left Warren County coach David Daniel seriously injured. Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Fred Bright, discussing the information in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s report, said both teams’ players said the other team started the fight and threw the first helmet.
Though Bright said no Warren County people could identify the person who struck Daniel, a 17-year-old Hancock Central player did admit he hit the coach. That player, however, says in the report that Daniel punched the player three times – twice in the chest and once in the face – before the player fought back by punching Daniel twice in the face.
As Bright continued with the contents of the GBI report, he said a 16-year-old Hancock Central player witnessed this event, but he described Daniel’s action as pushing the Hancock Central player. This witness said he first saw Warren County players trying to throw a helmet at the Hancock Central player.
When Daniel saw the Hancock Central player hit a Warren County player with a helmet, the coach stepped in, the witness said. According to the report, the witness saw Daniel push the Hancock Central player three times and hit him in the face before the player punched back twice.
Bright made it clear that the evidence in the GBI report says Daniel was hit by a fist, not a helmet.
Daniel has spent hours in the operating room because of the damage to his face and is still not completely recovered. He testified Wednesday and left the courthouse before 3 p.m.
Bright said players from both teams were injured in the fight, but Daniel’s injuries were the most serious. The district attorney added that Daniel, according to the GBI report, told an EMT that he had been accidentally hit in the face by one of his own player’s helmets when the player was swinging at someone else. Bright emphasized that a Hancock Central player did admit to hitting Daniel.
Bright also said Warren County wasn’t locked out of its locker room intentionally. In fact, Warren County’s team manager admits in the report that she had the key on her. Bright said the key is missing, however.
Bright said the reason for the fight could have been planted the week before, when Warren County team members attended Hancock Central’s game at Washington-Wilkes. Warren County’s Screaming Devils had no game that week.
Discussing what was in the report, Bright said some Warren County players were seen outside the visitors locker room taunting Hancock Central players after the game. Those players were escorted away from the field.
The Hancock County Sheriff’s Office started looking into the incident before Sheriff Tomlyn Primus requested assistance from the GBI less than a week after the fight.
Wednesday, Primus said Warren County “came to Hancock Central to fight.” He also said members of both teams – and other people – were pepper-sprayed, making it clear that Warren County members were not specifically targeted.
Primus added that between six and eight deputies were at the game, with three more responding after the fight escalated.
“Anytime that a player is injured along with a coach, nobody wins,” Primus said.
In December, Bright received the GBI’s 12-volume investigative report, which consisted of 135 interviews.
Because the event took place in Hancock County, the jurisdiction and venue lay there under law, Bright said in a December news release.
Georgia High School Association Executive Director Ralph Swearngin already has received reports from both schools but has been waiting for a report from law enforcement. If a GHSA rule was violated, the association will take action, he said.
“This is a long process,” Swearngin said. “This is a very serious issue and one we can’t rush into. This is not a closed book.”
Warren County school Superintendent Carole Jean Carey expects the results of a civil lawsuit to be quite different.
She said it’s “in the works now.”
Carey declined to testify Wednesday.
“It was expected,” she said about the result.