An investigation has "found no evidence of racist or offensive statements" from the students of Covington Catholic High School.
The Kentucky school made headlines in January, after a video went viral of one of the students, Nick Sandmann, facing off with a Native American drummer, Nathan Phillips, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Philips was there as part of the Indigenous Peoples March, while the Covington students were on a school trip to the March for Life, an anti-abortion rally.
The clip was politically divisive. Liberal commentators initially slammed Sandmann and the other predominantly white students for what they perceived as racist and offensive behavior. The group appeared to be mocking the drummer. Many sported red Make America Great Again hats, the campaign slogan for President Trump.
The day after the incident, the Diocese of Covington, which oversees the school, released a statement condemning the teens for their behavior, saying it “opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person.”
However, conservatives leaped to the teens’ defense after a second video surfaced that complicated the narrative. The clips showed a group of black Hebrew Israelites throwing offensive language at the Covington students before Phillips arrived at the scene.
Now, a February 11 report from the Greater Cincinnati Investigation, Inc., a third-party detective agency commissioned by the Diocese, has sided with the students. Four investigators — after interviewing students, chaperones, and witnesses over 240 man hours and reviewing 50 hours of video footage from social media and television — found no proof of “racist or offensive statements by students to Mr. Phillips or members of his group.”
In the report, most students claimed they were “confused” by the presence of Phillips. However, the report noted that some students did do the “tomahawk chop” — a controversial gesture from the sports world that has been criticized as offensive and discriminatory toward Native Americans.
One claim from Phillips was that the students were chanting “build the wall.” The report found no evidence of this. Rather, the report said the students, after asking permission from chaperones, vocalized a school cheer in response to the heckling from the black Hebrew Israelites.
“We see no evidence that students responded with any offensive or racist statements of their own,” the report stated. One chaperone even told the boys if “they engaged in a verbal exchange with the black Hebrew Israelites, they would receive detention when returning to school,” the report noted.
Chaperones also attested that “few, if any” students were wearing MAGA hats at the onset of the trip. “Most students purchased the hats before, during, or after the March for Life,” stated the report, which noted that students had purchased “Hope” hats in past years to support President Obama.
Neither Phillips nor Sandmann was interviewed for the report, but investigators did review Sandmann’s written account. Phillips did not respond to a request for interview.
Bishop Roger Foys lauded the report’s conclusions in a letter to parents posted to the diocese’s website:
"I am pleased to inform you that my hope and expectation expressed in my letter to you of 25 January that the results of our inquiry into the events of 18 January at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. would 'exonerate our students so that they can move forward with their lives' has been realized," Foys said.
"Our inquiry, conducted by a third party firm that has no connection with Covington Catholic High School or the Diocese of Covington, has demonstrated that our students did not instigate the incident that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial."
"In truth, taking everything into account, our students were placed in a situation that was at once bizarre and even threatening. Their reaction to the situation was, given the circumstances, expected and one might even say laudatory," he added.
Foys apologized for the diocese's former statement condemning the students' behavior, claiming church leaders were "bullied and pressured into making a statement prematurely, and we take full responsibility for it."