Charges dismissed against tennis coach who restrained a student who slapped her

“It’s been so long in coming,” Wilcox said outside the courtroom.

Pamela Manson
Park City High School tennis coach Lani Wilcox displays the mark left on the left side of her face after a student player allegedly struck her. Wilcox was charged with aggravated child abuse, a third-degree felony. On Friday, a judge dismissed the charges against her.|
Photo introduced as Defendant’s Exhibit 1

A judge on Friday dismissed criminal charges against a Park City High School tennis coach who was accused of assaulting a student player last year by putting her in a choke hold after the girl slapped her.

At the conclusion of a hearing in Summit County’s 3rd District Court, Judge Richard Mrazik ruled the prosecution had not proven by clear and convincing evidence that the force used by Lani Wilcox to restrain the girl was not justified.

Mrazik said he found credible Wilcox’s testimony that she felt it necessary to protect others from harm. He also noted the girl had pointed to her collarbone, not her neck, when she testified at an earlier hearing about how the coach had restrained her.

About 30 people attended the hearing in support of Wilcox and some applauded when the judge announced his decision.

If any adult, let alone an individual in a position of special trust, restricts the breathing of a child in Summit County or strangles a child, they will also go through this same statutory process for the judge to determine justification.” — Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson

“It’s been so long in coming,” Wilcox said outside the courtroom. “It really wore on me. It was hard on me. I’m glad the truth came out. I do have faith in the justice system now.”

Summit County Chief Prosecutor Patricia Cassell said Wilcox acted out of anger, not to protect herself or others. A surveillance video of the confrontation showed Wilcox walked up to the girl several times when she could have walked away, she said.

But defense attorneys Clayton Simms and Skye Lazaro have argued Wilcox acted to protect herself, a fellow tennis coach and the other student tennis players. Under a law enacted in 2021, if prosecutors cannot prove by clear and convincing evidence that a defendant’s use or threatened use of force was not justified, the court must dismiss the charge.

Simms said Mrazik made the right decision.

“The judge found what we knew all along, that Coach Wilcox was attacked first and she simply reacted to protect other high school tennis players and her fellow coach,” he said. “The truth came out and justice prevailed.”

Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson said her office will appeal the dismissal, “as there is a paucity of guidance at the appellate level” on the justification issue. A judge, rather than the prosecution, makes the decision, she said.

“The parties and the Court followed the statutory process in this matter where justification was claimed,” Olson said in a written statement. “It was the purview of the Court to determine justification. If any adult, let alone an individual in a position of special trust, restricts the breathing of a child in Summit County or strangles a child, they will also go through this same statutory process for the judge to determine justification.”

Wilcox, 62, the head coach of the girls varsity tennis team, was charged with one count of aggravated child abuse, a third-degree felony, and one count of interruption of a communication device, a class B misdemeanor. The maximum punishments are five years in prison and a $5,000 fine for the child abuse count and six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for the misdemeanor count.

The charges stemmed from an argument with the student-athlete that turned physical at the Park City Municipal Athletic & Recreation Center (MARC) during an Aug. 29 practice. Wilcox was accused of putting the girl in a choke hold and taking her phone away from her. State law prohibits an individual from interrupting another person’s attempt to call for emergency aid by force, intimidation or violence.

At a Jan. 3 hearing on the justification issue, Wilcox testified the girl became angry about the position she would be playing in a match the next day and went to a bathroom before returning almost an hour later. She told the girl because of the time she had been gone from practice, she would not be playing in the match and to go home but she refused to leave, according to Wilcox.

The student-athlete then came after her and struck her on her left cheek “really, really hard,” Wilcox said. The girl said “f— you, Lani,” as she struck her, she said.

Because she feared the girl would go after her again or attack someone else, Wilcox said she put her in a “bear hug” from behind but did not use a choke hold. The student must have pushed back because they both fell to the ground, she said.

Wilcox said she suffered a concussion when her head hit the court. The student then kicked the assistant tennis coach, Brad Smith, in the groin, she said.

The girl testified at the hearing that she wondered why Wilcox wanted her to leave after she came back from the bathroom. The coach was angry and her face was just a few inches from hers, she said.

The student said she felt Wilcox was going to push her and acknowledged she cursed at the coach and struck her but said she didn’t hit her hard. As she turned to leave, Wilcox grabbed her around the neck with both arms, the girl said.

The girl said she thinks Wilcox fell from grabbing her and that the coach’s hand hit her own face, which caused a red mark on her cheek.

In a written statement to Park City police on the day of the incident, the girl said when she got up from the ground, she saw Smith approaching her and kicked him because she was scared that “he would do something as well.”


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