An investigation into the viral encounter between students from Covington Catholic High School and a Native American man found the students' accounts to be largely accurate, according to findings released Wednesday.
Greater Cincinnati Investigations issued a report dated Feb. 11 that found no evidence that students from Covington Catholic made “offensive or racist” statements to either Black Hebrew Israelites or Native American tribe members gathered on the National Mall.
"The statements we obtained from students and chaperones are remarkably consistent," the investigators said. “And, the statements are consistent with the videos we reviewed."
The students were the subject of intense scrutiny after a short video clip went viral that showed students wearing "Make America Great Again" hats surrounding Native American Nathan Phillips as he played a traditional Native American drum. One student, Nicholas Sandmann, appeared to be in a standoff with Phillips.
Social media users, politicians and the Diocese of Covington were among those who initially condemned the boys’ actions. The students maintained that they were being respectful, and additional video footage and accounts emerged in the days that followed that showed Phillips had walked toward the student group amid broader tensions near the Lincoln Memorial.
Investigators found that, based on interviews with 43 students and 16 adult chaperones and hours of video and social media content, "none of the students felt threatened by Mr. Phillips and many stated they were 'confused.’"
The investigation found that some students performed a “tomahawk chop” to the beat of Phillips’ drum, and that the group did “school cheers” directed at the Black Hebrew Israelites.
Investigators attempted to interview Sandmann and Phillips, but were unsuccessful. Sandmann referred to a previously issued written statement on the matter, which investigators said "appears to accurately reflect the facts surrounding the interaction between the students and the Black Hebrew Israelites."
The report makes no recommendations to the school about future events or policies in the wake of the incident.
The Bishop of the Covington Diocese, Roger Foys, welcomed the report as vindication of the students' behavior, despite the diocese's initial condemnation of the events.
"In truth, taking everything into account, our students were placed in a situation that was at once bizarre and even threatening," Foys said in a statement. "Their reaction to the situation was, given the circumstances, expected and one might even say laudatory."