Park City Tennis coach testified, denying putting a player in a state of suffocation

Park City High School tennis coach Lani Wilcox displays the left mark on the left side of her face after an alleged freshman player hit her. Wilcox, who is charged with aggravated child abuse, a third-degree felony, said at a hearing Tuesday that she acted in self-defense. | The photograph was provided as a document for Defendant 1

A Park City High School tennis coach testified to a charge of assaulting a student Tuesday that she grabbed the alleged victim in a “bear hug” to defend herself and others after the girl slapped her, but did not put her in a chokehold.

Lani Wilcox said the girl got angry at a training session about what position she would play in a match the next day and went to the bathroom, where she spoke with her mother and stepfather on the phone before returning about an hour later. The coach said she told the girl that because of the time she missed training, she wouldn’t play in the match and would go home, but the girl refused to leave.

“I turned around when she came up behind me and hit me really hard,” Wilcox said.

“You, Lani,” said the student, patting her on the left cheek, she said.

Because she was afraid the girl would come after her again or attack someone else, Wilcox said she put her arms around her from behind. She said the student must have been pushed back because they both fell to the ground.

Her head hit the court and she suffered a concussion, Wilcox said. She said the student then kicked assistant tennis coach Brad Smith in the groin.

Wilcox, 62, the head coach of the girls’ varsity tennis team, is charged with one count of aggravated child abuse, a third-degree felony, and one count of cutting a communication device, a second-degree misdemeanor.

She is accused of asphyxiating the girl on Aug. 29 at the Park City Municipal Sports and Recreation Center (MARC) and taking her phone away. State law prohibits any individual from interrupting, by force, intimidation or violence, another person’s attempt to call for emergency help.

Wilcox, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, testified at a corroboration hearing in Summit County’s 3rd District Court. Her defense attorney, Clayton Sims, requested pre-trial proceedings to provide evidence to support his argument that his client was the victim of aggravated assault and that she responded with the force necessary to defend herself, as well as a fellow tennis coach and other student tennis players in training.

Under state law enacted in 2021, if prosecutors cannot show clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s use or threat of force was not justified, the court must dismiss the charge.

Surveillance video of the incident, played at the hearing, shows the student and Wilcox talking and the girl slapping the coach. The two fall to the ground, then get up, and the girl is seen kicking Smith.

Under cross-examination by Summit County District Attorney Patricia Cassell, Wilcox said the girl was defiant by refusing to leave. The coach said that when she went to the other side of the court, the girl followed right behind her and was where she was.

She could have walked away, said Cassel, noting that Wilcox had turned to the student several times.

“Are you suggesting that because I got close to her, she is allowed to hit me?” Wilcox said, adding that she wasn’t into the girl’s face.

The student testified that she was trying to find out why Wilcox wanted to leave her after returning from the bathroom. The girl said the coach was getting angry and her face was a few inches away from hers.

The student said she got scared and felt Wilcox was going to push her. She admitted to swearing at Wilcox and hitting her but she said she never hit her hard.

“It’s not a big slap,” she said.

The girl said the curse was motivated by fear. She said she got frustrated and turned to leave but the trainer put her in a choke hold and she couldn’t breathe.

“She grabbed me by the neck with both arms,” ​​said the girl.

The student said she believed Wilcox fell from being caught and that the coach’s hand hit her face, causing a red mark to appear on her cheek.

In a written statement to Park City police on the day of the accident, the student said when she got up from the ground, she saw Smith approaching her.

She said, “I’ve gotten into arguments with him in the past, so I got scared when he approached me that he was going to do something too, so I kicked him between his legs.”

Smith testified at the hearing that he had heard the student accuse Wilcox of lying to her, which she denied, and Wilcox telling the student five or six times that she had to go home. Then he heard the slapping and saw Wilcox’s head hit the court, he said.

When the girl’s mother and stepfather got to Mark, Smith said, Wilcox showed them what their daughter had done to her face. He said the stepfather walked up to Wilcox and asked him how he could know she hadn’t hit herself to leave a mark.

In her testimony on Tuesday, the mother said that Wilcox told her husband she had strangled the girl twice. Simms called Smith and Wilcox back to the stand afterwards and they testified that it was not right.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Richard Mrazek asked Sims and Cassell to later file briefs on whether Wilcox had brought a case in self-defense and if the coach had placed the girl in a chokehold, whether it was likely to cause injury or death. The judge has set a hearing for March 24, when he is expected to rule on the justification case.

If convicted, Wilcox faces up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine on the child abuse charge and six months in prison and a $1,000 fine on the misdemeanor charge.

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