EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a developing story, which will be updated as further information becomes available.
BOLIVAR – Southwest Baptist University (SBU) officials here say the university had no direct involvement in an incident that led to charges against two former students after a video surfaced allegedly showing the students hitting a teenager at a group home for children last July.
ViaVia Manuma, 24, was charged on one count of child abuse and one count of first-degree assault, Feb. 1. Henry Epenesa, 21, was charged on two counts of assault and one count of child abuse the following day. Both men – former SBU football players – were placed in the Polk County Jail with a $50,000 bond.
On a video shot last July 17, Manuma and Epenesa were allegedly caught beating a boy in a group home near Bolivar that is run by an organization called Home Court Advantage.
After the videos came to the attention of the administration, Jan. 24, SBU immediately called law enforcement and a child welfare hotline, according to a written statement from the university.
Additionally, after consulting university policies, SBU dismissed two students “based on a preponderance of evidence for their involvement” in the alleged assault. For legal reasons, the school could not disclose the names of these students.
University officials also say that “the alleged incident related to the video was not connected to SBU or any university-sanctioned activity,” according to the statement. “It is our understanding that the individuals related to the incident in the video were employed by Home Court Advantage. Their employment was not through or associated with SBU.”
SBU’s President, Pat Taylor, commented on the incident in a written statement, issued Jan. 31.
“On behalf of the SBU family, I express great sorrow over these actions,” he said. “Such behavior will not be tolerated by the SBU community.
“The University acted swiftly and respectfully upon receiving information last week related to the incident, resulting in the immediate contacting of authorities. In this, as with all allegations of student misconduct, it is imperative that we follow our internal processes and procedures. This resulted in the dismissal of two students from our University.
“We will not let the regretful actions of a few define who we are as an institution,” Taylor continued. “We are a community of 3,700 students, 350 full-time faculty and staff, and more than 27,000 alumni around the world — and we continue to carry out our mission of being a Christ-centered, caring academic community preparing students to be servant leaders in a global society.”