June 08, 2013

PAYSON, Utah (AP) -- A criminal charge has been dismissed against a Utah youth football coach accused of hitting an opposing ball carrier under the chin with his forearm during a game and giving the boy a concussion.

Fourth District Judge Donald Eyre on Thursday dismissed a misdemeanor assault charge filed against Nathan Harris, 39, of Mapleton, last November.

According to police, video shows that as the 13-year-old ball carrier ran last October, Harris stepped out and intentionally knocked him down with his forearm.

Referee David Durrant, who threw a penalty flag and ejected Harris, said the boy looked like he was about to go out of bounds - or had just gotten out of bounds - when he was hit. He said the coach stood his ground and delivered a blow, even though he had time to move.

But Harris maintains the boy ran into him near the sideline at the end of a play and he never moved toward the boy. He said he had little time to react and raised his arms to protect himself out of instinct.

New video obtained by Harris lawyer Rhome Zabriskie shows the boy back up and playing after the collision, indicating he did not suffer a concussion as the charging documents alleged.

"I appreciated the way the prosecution handled this case," Zabriskie told the Deseret News. "When they saw that there were those inconsistencies, they took a very close look at it and made the right decision."

Harris, a father of six, said dismissal of the charge is a huge weight off him and his family.

"Now I can start putting my life together and try to erase all the damage that has been done," he told Provo's Daily Herald. "It has been quite a roller coaster. We feel like we are blessed to come out with the right outcome."

Harris said he hopes his case does not prevent other parents from volunteering with their children's activities. If the opportunity arose, he said, he would be glad to coach again.

"It's worth it to be involved in your kid's life," he said.

Harris had been scheduled to stand trial on the assault charge next week.

He originally was arrested on a felony child abuse charge, but the Utah County Attorney's Office declined to prosecute the case. The Payson City Attorney's Office then filed a lesser assault charge against him.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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