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Joe White and Jeff Myers Kingfisher football case
A Kingfisher County Sheriff's Office deputy declares a prohibition on photography while attorney Joe White, left, and former Kingfisher High School football coach Jeff Myers wait outside of a courtroom Thursday, June 27, 2024. (Michael McNutt)

(Update: On Monday, July 1, Kingfisher County District Attorney Tommy Humphries filed an appeal to Judge Allison Lafferty’s ruling outlined below. On Wednesday, July 3, Micah Nall pleaded not guilty. The following article remains in its original form.)

KINGFISHER — A felony charge of child neglect failed to move forward Thursday against former Kingfisher High School football coach Jeff Myers after a judge ruled prosecutors fell short of meeting their burden of proof.

During about four hours of hearings in Kingfisher County District Court, one former member of the KHS football team testified that players wrestling in the locker room after practice was “high school boys being high school boys having fun,” and another former player said he saw teammates wrestling in what was called “the ring” two or three times during the four years he was on the team. The event was called “the ring” because teammates would encircle the two players in the match.

Their testimony countered that of Mason Mecklenburg, who said he took part in 10 matches his freshman year and several more during his sophomore year. Mecklenburg said he never sought medical treatment for any injuries and did not report the matches to either his parents or his coaches.

Late last year, Mecklenburg reached a $5 million settlement with Kingfisher Public Schools for the civil lawsuit he had filed alleging mental and physical abuse as a result of the matches in the ring. The settlement came two months after then-District Attorney Mike Fields had filed criminal child neglect charges against Myers and former assistant coach Micah Nall related to his investigation of the hazing, bullying and abuse allegations. Fields also charged Mason Mecklenburg’s father and a KPS Board member with misdemeanor charges of failure to report child abuse.

Three days had been set aside for preliminary hearings for Myers and Nall. Thursday morning, Nall waived his preliminary hearing, and his court arraignment was set for Wednesday, July 3.

The preliminary hearing for Myers began soon thereafter, and it wrapped up in the mid-afternoon with Blaine County Associate District Judge Allison Lafferty ruling prosecutors had failed to prove probable cause that a crime of child neglect had been committed and that Myers had committed the crime.

Kingfisher County Assistant District Attorney Jimmy Bunn had listed nearly 60 possible witnesses but ended up calling only four: former players Mason Mecklenburg, Declan Haub and Keaton Abercrombie, as well as former KPS Superintendent Jason Sternberger.

“This ended a lot quicker than I expected,” said Lafferty, who was assigned the Myers and Nall cases after Kingfisher County judges had recused.

Before the court hearing adjourned, Bunn announced he would appeal Lafferty’s ruling.

Both Myers, who can no longer coach football at KHS because of terms in the lawsuit settlement, and his attorney, Joe White, declined to comment.

During his closing argument, White claimed that Mecklenburg was the only KHS football player to complain and allege he faced physical harm during his time on the football team. White said the KSH football team has about 50 players each year, and during the seven-year time frame of Mecklenburg’s allegations that the team had about 350 players.

“When Coach Myers found out about the boxing, he stopped it,” White said.

Other players did allege hazing behavior in court filings in the civil lawsuit, however, and another former player’s participation in a drill led by Nall spurred an initial criminal investigation against the assistant coach and the program.

Kingfisher football controversy tears town apart

Jeff Myers and Micah Nall
From left: Former Kingfisher High School head football coach Jeff Myers and former assistant coach Micah Nall appeared in Kingfisher County District Court on Thursday, June 27, 2024, for a preliminary hearing on felony charges. (NonDoc)

Pending appeal, the end of criminal proceedings against Myers came about six months after the Kingfisher Public Schools Board of Education settled Mason Mecklenburg’s federal lawsuit for $5 million, a decision that has only intensified community frustration about the situation.

Mecklenburg, who graduated from KHS in 2021, said he was forced to wrestle and occasionally box football teammates in the locker room after football practice. He also alleged that Myers knew of, condoned and encouraged abusive behavior by football players, which he said included use of a stun gun, a paintball gun and locker room items to inflict pain on younger teammates.

Myers was charged in October 2023 with one felony count of child neglect. His former assistant coach, Nall, was also charged with a felony count of child neglect and a felony count of perjury for allegedly making false statements under oath during a deposition for the civil lawsuit.

Kingfisher Public Schools Board member Dana Golbek and Justin Mecklenburg were each charged with a misdemeanor count of failure to report child abuse.

In January, Golbek pleaded no contest to the charge and received a six-month deferred sentence with unsupervised probation and requirements to pay certain fines and fees. In March, Justin Mecklenburg also pleaded no contest and received a six-month deferred sentence with requirements to pay certain fines and fees but no probation.

The civil lawsuit was filed originally on behalf of Mason Mecklenburg anonymously in 2021 in Kingfisher County District Court against Kingfisher Public Schools, Myers, Nall and two other coaches, Derek Patterson and Blake Eaton. The lawsuit later moved to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, where proceedings included an unusual scenario where KPS Board members called an official public meeting in a magistrate judge’s courtroom.

From its onset, the lawsuit has divided residents of the 5,000-person community 50 minutes northwest of Oklahoma City. Even after the suit’s settlement, the Mecklenburgs launched a website about the case called The Dark Side of Friday Night Lights, and another former KPS football player’s Change.org petition and subsequent Facebook conversation recently blew up with allegations lobbed back and forth about Myers and Mason Mecklenburg.

The Kingfisher Public Schools Board approved the $5 million settlement in December. According to the settlement, KPS agreed to pay $1.25 million to one law firm representing Mason Mecklenburg, Nix Patterson, LLP, and to pay $3.75 million to Mecklenburg over the next three years. The funds are set to come out of the district’s sinking fund, meaning the district will pay interest on that amount. Additionally, the agreement stipulates Myers cannot coach a KPS athletic team again, though he would be allowed to teach in the district. On Thursday, however, the State Board of Education met in Oklahoma City and suspended Myers’ teaching credentials.

Throughout years of court filings, hearings and trial delays, Mason Mecklenburg and his lawyers had offered at least three settlements to the district. Each asked for progressively more money, the creation of anti-bullying and hazing programs, and the termination of Myers, the district’s longtime head football coach who was accused of creating a culture of fear, intimidation and physical harassment in his program.

In court on Thursday, White said the criminal charge against Myers seemed to stem from the lawsuit filed by Mecklenburg.

“One thing money can’t buy is justice,” White said.

Mason Mecklenburg’s grandfather removed from courtroom

Kingfisher lawsuit settled
Kingfisher head football coach Jeff Myers walks off the field during halftime of a game at Weatherford High School on Friday, Sept. 1, 2023. (Bennett Brinkman)

About 35 people showed up for Thursday’s court hearing. The Mecklenburg family sat on one side of the courtroom, and supporters of Myers — most of whom wore “We Support Jeff” stickers — filled the other side.

Kingfisher resident Mark Snodgrass said he showed up at the hearing to counter what he called “a one-sided smear campaign” against Myers.

“My children played for the football team, and they didn’t ever witness any of these atrocities that are claimed,” Snodgrass said. “There’s so many half-truths that I just couldn’t sit back and watch someone that had 20 years as a teacher and in our program that was being drug through the mud.”

Mason Mecklenburg’s grandfather, former Kingfisher City Attorney Randy Mecklenburg, was ejected from the courtroom by the judge about two hours after the hearing had started. White was preparing to ask Mason Mecklenburg a question when he looked into the courtroom gallery at Randy Mecklenburg and told him to stop whispering. Randy Mecklenburg responded and said something, which White told the judge included the word “bullshit.” White asked that he be removed. Lafferty asked a deputy sheriff to escort Randy Mecklenburg out of the courtroom to a hallway, where he waited during the rest of the hearing.

Later in the day, Randy Mecklenburg said he did not utter the alleged profanity.

“I should not have spoken to him,” Randy Mecklenburg said. “He did turn and point his finger at me, you know, and so I responded. But, you know, I’m an attorney. I’ve been an attorney for 44 years, so I know the rules.  (…) I thought the judge overreacted, but, you know, she’s the judge.”

During the day’s testimony, Declan Haub, who graduated from KHS in 2019 and played all four years on the high school football team, said players took part in the ring after practice. Sometimes, he said, one player might call out another player during practice to take part in the ring.

Bunn asked Haub why that would happen, and Haub responded: “Fun, I guess.”

Matches in the ring would take place in the locker room during the 30 minutes allotted to take showers before going to the film room, he said. Myers and other coaches were in their offices. However, Nall wrestled with a player on one occasion, Haub said.

The wrestling matches lasted at the most two minutes, Haub said. He only saw one boxing match.

Asked if any player got hurt in the ring, Haub said, “Not that I remember.”

He said the ring was voluntary and not forced on anyone.

Haub said he felt Myers cared about him as a football player and cared about his health, safety and well-being.

Keaton Abercrombie, who graduated from KHS in 2020 and played all four years on the high school football team, said he saw players in the ring two or three times. He said he did not know if anyone got hurt.

He said that when Myers found out about the ring, he put an end to all aspects of the ring, not only the boxing but also wrestling. Both Haub and Keaton Abercrombie were vague in their recollections of the ring. They recalled few details and often said they did not remember who took part in the matches.

Why Bunn and recently appointed District Attorney Tommy Humphries called only Keaton Abercrombie to the witness stand and not his twin brother, Clayton, was unclear Thursday. In an affidavit filed in the civil lawsuit in September 2023, Clayton Abercrombie said that “many of us, including myself, endured abuse from the coaches, specifically Coach Jeff Myers and Coach Micah Nall.”

“When Mason was on the ‘scout team’ as a freshman, Coach Myers and the other coaches would purposely put Mason in a position to run the ball against bigger, stronger, and older football players,” Clayton Abercrombie wrote. “Coach Myers and the other coaches enjoyed Mason getting hit again and again by the older football players. It was obvious that the coaches would only stop the drill if Mason was hurt and sometimes not even when Mason was hurt.”

‘They wanted to see my ass get whipped’

A photo of a teenager identified as John Doe No. 1 in a lawsuit against Kingfisher Public Schools and its head football coach shows significant bruising. (Provided)

Mason Mecklenburg, who graduated from KHS in 2021 and was a member of the football team all four years while in high school, testified Thursday that the ring “was between people that had a beef in practice.”

He said most of the matches in the ring involved wrestling. The times boxing occurred, players were given gloves or towels were tied around their hands to soften any blows.

Mecklenburg said not all the players who took part in the ring did so voluntarily. Sometimes, players would call out other players to take part in the ring, he said.

“It was just who they thought would be a good matchup, who they thought would be fun to watch,” he said.

Mecklenburg said he was among the smaller players on the football team. As a freshman, he was 5’6″ tall and weighed 135 pounds. He said he grew an inch and gained 10 pounds as a sophomore. He said upper classmen often called on freshmen and sophomores to battle in the ring. He said he took part in 10 matches his freshman year and several his sophomore year. He said he was not challenged to take part in the ring during his junior and senior years.

“Luckily, I never got seriously injured, like a broken bone or anything of that sort,” he said. “I did get several bruises, obviously. I got a lot of strawberries, a lot of welts.”

Mecklenburg described a strawberry as a point of impact in which part of his skin was torn. He said the only medical treatment he could recall receiving was when he put a bandage on one of those injuries.

Mecklenburg said he was bullied during his freshman year to take part in the matches in the ring.

“They did it for show, they wanted to see my ass get whipped,” he said.

He said he felt pressured to take part in the matches after he was called out to appear in the ring.

“If you did not do it, you’re seen as soft, ” he said.

During cross examination, White shows videos of Mecklenburg

Kingfisher football lawsuit settled
Kingfisher Public Schools reportedly reached a settlement agreement in November 2023 on a lawsuit from a former high school football player who alleged the football program encouraged and utilized hazing. (Tres Savage)

Mecklenburg said he endured significant stress during the time he was on the football team.

“My mental state was pretty much depleted,” he said, acknowledging that he did not seek counseling. “I was too scared to tell anybody.”

Mecklenburg said he graduated from KHS with nearly a 4.0 grade point average and that he has a 3.98 grade point at Oklahoma State University, where he will be a senior this fall. He said he has been receiving counseling since 2021 during the academic year.

Mecklenburg said Myers was present during two or three matches in “the ring” during his freshman year. Asked during cross examination by White what the coach was doing, Mecklenburg replied, “Just watching.”

But Mecklenburg said he did not report the matches to school officials.

“I knew they would not do anything,” he said.

Mecklenburg said when he was called out on the practice field to take part in the ring, he tried to hide when he got to the locker room.

“That wouldn’t work,” he said. “They forced me into it.”

Mecklenburg said he gave another student a black eye during a boxing match in the ring. He said he swung as he was struck in the jaw.

White showed videos of Mecklenburg, who was on the track team during the spring semester, wrestling with teammates during track meets. He also showed videos of Mecklenburg boxing at a friend’s garage.

Those were different from the ring, Mecklenburg said.

“There was no animosity for each other,” he said. “It was all voluntary. I wasn’t forced into it. There were no threats.”

White also showed a video of a match between two football teammates in the ring at KHS. At the end of the video, Mecklenburg appeared to be him cheering his teammates on. White said Mecklenburg appeared to be happy.

“I was glad I didn’t have to do it,” Mecklenburg said.

White responded with another question: “Were you egging them on?”

“I can’t tell,” Mecklenburg said.

Mecklenburg said he did not like Myers and did not get along with most of the coaches. He said he had a miserable time on the football team.

“I felt completely isolated,” he said.