An investigation conducted by an independent firm found “no evidence” that the Covington High School students involved in the viral confrontation with an elderly Native American man near the Lincoln Memorial last month used “offensive or racist” statements.
The Diocese of Covington hired Greater Cincinatti Investigation Inc. to look into the incident after the school and its students were subjected to a torrent of online hate due to the misperception that the male students, who were in Washington, D.C. to participate in the March for Life, surrounded and harassed Nathan Phillips, an elderly Native American man.
After a more complete video of the encounter emerged, it became clear that Phillips approached the boys and began banging a drum just inches from one boy’s face.
Four licensed investigators spent a total of 240 hours reviewing recordings of the encounter posted to social media and interviewing witnesses, according to a four-page report released by the diocese Wednesday, which
“We found no evidence that the students performed a ‘Build the wall’ chant,” the report said, debunking a view that was widely-held among the boys’ online detractors in the days following the incident.
The report further found that Phillips’s account of the incident “contain some inconsistencies” that could not be explored because investigators were unable to reach him.
Phillips initially claimed that they boys approached him but later admitted that he walked into their group after a video emerged debunking his initial claim. According to his second account, Phillips was attempting to defuse a confrontation between the students and a group of Black Hebrew Israelites, who can be heard on video shouting racial and homophobic slurs at the boys.
Roger J. Foys, the bishop of Covington, celebrated the report as a vindication of the students.
“Our students were placed in a situation that was at once bizarre and even threatening,” he said in a statement. “Their reaction to the situation was, given the circumstances, expected and one might even say laudatory.”