Denver police investigate disturbing video showing cheerleaders held down, forced into splits

WARNING: The video above is graphic and some people may find it disturbing; viewer discretion is advised.

DENVER — Cheerleading coaches and school administrators in a Colorado district have been placed on leave, and Denver police are investigating amid series of videos showing high school cheerleaders screaming in pain while being pushed into splits during practice.

KUSA reports the videos show eight cheerleaders at Denver's East High School repeatedly being pushed into splits while their arms are held up by teammates. In one video, a girl repeatedly asks her coach to "please stop." The station says the videos were shot on the phones of two team members and were sent anonymously to the station.

Denver Public Schools superintendent Tom Boasberg calls the videos "extremely distressing." He says the school's principal and an assistant principal, the cheer coach and his assistant and a district lawyer have been placed on leave during the investigation.

He issued the following statement regarding the situation to KUSA:

Earlier today, I became aware of an exercise used at cheer practices this summer at East High School. We immediately began taking steps to investigate this issue, and our Department of Safety is supporting Denver Police in this effort. In order to conduct a fair and thorough investigation, we have placed East Principal Andy Mendelsberg, East Assistant Principal Lisa Porter, East Cheer Coach Ozell Williams, East Assistant Cheer Coach Mariah Cladis and DPS Deputy General Counsel Michael Hickman on leave. This is standard practice in an investigation of this type. It does not imply or prejudge in any way the actions of the individuals or what the investigation might determine. Please know that we will share the results of the investigation as soon as possible. I want to reiterate in no uncertain terms our commitment to the safety of our students. We absolutely prohibit any practices that place our students’ physical and mental health in jeopardy. We do not and will not allow any situation in which a student is forced to perform an activity or exercise beyond the point at which they express their desire to stop. While this investigation is ongoing, we are entirely focused on ensuring our students and staff at East are receiving the supports they need. A senior leader at the school, East Assistant Principal Jason Maclin, will serve as interim principal during this time and we are providing additional counseling for our students and families. With regards to certain videos, I cannot state strongly enough – as the superintendent of the school district and as the father of two high school-aged daughters — that the images and actions depicted are extremely distressing and absolutely contrary to our core values as a public school community.