Posted on December 31, 2010

Texas Town, Courts Fail Cheerleader

David Whitley, AOL Sports, November 22, 2010

She is identified by her real name now, Hillaire. But after almost 21 months she still can’t bring herself to say somebody else’s.

Hillaire was a cheerleader, yelling for her high school basketball team in a Texas town. A player went to shoot a free throw. Hillaire knelt in silence.

The player had been arrested for allegedly raping her four months earlier. Temporarily cleared of the charge, Rakheem Bolton was back on campus. Because of that, school officials told Hillaire to cheer for him.

“I was not going to do it,” she said.

Hillaire was kicked off the team. She filed a lawsuit, which an appeals court recently rejected. She had no right to remain silent.

Her defiance has become the non-cheer heard ’round the world. TV networks, magazines and blogs have weighed in on what happened in Silsbee, Texas. An online petition demanding the school officials apologize has gathered 16,270 signatures, more than twice the population of the East Texas town.


As to why, that’s where the answers get elusive. Bolton was a football star. He is black and Hillaire is white.

Those factors inevitably played into this small-town drama. Whatever your views on race and jock entitlement, there’s not much disagreement over how everything started.

Hillaire went to a party at the home of Silsbee High student Brian Riley in September 2008. She got drunk and started flirting. She went into a game room with four boys, including Bolton and another football player, Christian Rountree.

The police report said that after a few minutes, party-goers heard a cry.

“Stop! Seriously, stop it. No!”

They banged on the locked door but nobody answered. Riley kicked in the door. Others followed him in.

They found one boy standing by a bathroom door. Hillaire was under the pool table. She was sobbing and partially clothed from the waist up.

The bathroom window had been broken out. On the floor next to the pool table were some shorts, socks and tennis shoes.

Riley and others went outside to look around. They saw Rountree down the street talking on a cell phone. Then Bolton came out of some nearby woods.

“I didn’t rape no white girl. I wouldn’t use anyone else’s (d–) to (f–) her,” he said. “I don’t know if she has AIDS. I don’t even know that girl.”

Riley’s mother, Stacy, was holding a garbage bag containing the clothes. Bolton demanded it and lunged at her. He was held back, but Stacy Riley tossed the bag in the driveway.

Bolton grabbed it and headed for a car. Before pulling away, he turned and gestured as if he had a gun in his hand.

“All you (m—-f—-) better be locked and loaded,” he screamed. “None of you better sleep tonight.”

Bolton was arrested and charged with sexual assault of a minor. He got out on bail but had to attend an alternative educational facility until a grand jury heard the case.

Silsbee High School had lost one of its top defensive players. One of the Tigers’ top cheerleaders went into rape counseling.

The counselor advised Hillaire to forge ahead at school, since it’s important to regain a sense of control. She said school officials told her to avoid the lunchroom and not to attend the next week’s Homecoming festivities.

“There were threats against me,” Hillaire said. “If I was there, they were going to shoot me.”

She went anyway. No bullets were fired, but over the next few weeks she took plenty of verbal shots. {snip}


Bolton returned to Silsbee High. School officials had no choice about that. They hoped both factions would move on, but rape accusations aren’t exactly Let-Bygones-Be-Bygones material.

Bolton’s supporters felt he’d been made a scapegoat; Hillaire was routinely called a “slut.”

A group of Bolton’s friends and family were in the stands at the first basketball game where she refused to cheer. Hillaire’s family attended the next game. A loud confrontation ensued. Both sides blamed the other.

Again, those particulars are open to interpretation. What happened on the gym floor is relatively clear.

Hillaire participated in all the routines. She cheered when Bolton made plays that helped the Tigers. But when he was fouled and went to the free-throw line, she would not join the designated cheer.

At halftime, she was told to cheer or leave. {snip}


“The cheerleader’s conduct at the game caused a significant disruption,” SISD attorney Tanner Hunt wrote in an e-mail to me.

The cheerleader’s side agrees there was a disruption. As to who caused it, Bain wasn’t so definitive when Craig pressed him.

“You’re saying Hillaire is creating that situation?” Craig asked.

“No. I didn’t say Hillaire,” Bain said. “I said the whole thing.”

“Well it appears to be,” Craig said. “If she doesn’t cheer for him, then situations occur. So basically what’s being said is her not cheering for him is what’s causing the animosity among the stands.”


Craig then went to Lokey’s office, where they were joined by cheerleader adviser Sissy McInnis. She said the girls had been told at practice that they had to cheer for every player. Craig noted that Hillaire had been at counseling, not practice.


More than a half-dozen witnesses–most Silsbee High students–said Bolton had threatened to shoot them. Yet SISD officials didn’t deem that worth investigating. How could they form “reasonable belief” when they hadn’t even bothered to read about the incident?

“Eight or 10 students have police statements that he threatened to shoot them. And apparently that isn’t enough to keep a uniform off him,” Craig said. “But the fact my daughter won’t cheer for him is enough?


Was it race? Silsbee is about one-third African-American. The NAACP had taken an interest in the case.

“Hillaire was collateral damage,” Craig said. “It was easier to fight one family than the NAACP and the entire community.”

“The cheerleader is white. The boy is black. The school board is all-white,” Hunt wrote. “All the administrators are white. The idea that, in this deep East Texas community, the African-American boy would receive preferential treatment over the white girl is difficult to comprehend, and is without basis.”

Whatever the motivating factors, Hillaire sued the school district in May 2009. She claimed it had violated her rights to equal protection and freedom of speech.

The case was dismissed twice, and Hillaire appealed. On Sept. 16, 2010, a three-judge panel ruled that her First Amendment rights had not been violated.

“(Hillaire’s) act constituted a substantial interference with the work of the school,” the panel ruled, “because, as a cheerleader, (Hillaire) was at the basketball game for the purpose of cheering, a position she undertook voluntarily.”


In November 2009 a second grand jury reinstated the charges against Bolton and Rountree. A plea agreement reduced the charge to Class A misdemeanor assault. The case against Rountree is still pending, but Bolton pleaded guilty in September.

The end result: school officials may not have been telling Hillaire to cheer for her rapist. She was being told to cheer for her self-admitted assaulter.


Bolton got a one-year suspended jail sentence, two years’ probation, a $2,500 fine, 150 hours community service and is required to attend anger-management classes.

But at least he has no hard feelings.


[Editor’s Note: An earlier account of this incident can be read here.]

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