People & Places

Parents allege bullying, harassment, lack of accountability at Williston trampoline park

Get Air Trampoline Park in Williston. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

WILLISTON — It’s a place for children to jump and play and have fun. But two young boys report being sexually harassed there and parents say that Get Air trampoline park has not responded to their concerns for more than a month.

“It’s a dangerous and disturbing environment that is inadequately staffed and supervised,” according to Jamie Wilhite, whose sons said they were sexually harassed by “older kids” at the children’s trampoline park in late March.

The allegations, also documented by Williston police, are found in one of 14 reports the department has on file involving juveniles at Get Air since January 2021, ranging from 911 hang-up calls and juveniles being rowdy to more serious reports of assault, bullying and racial slurs.

Police and parents said they’ve repeatedly struggled to make contact with management at the Williston Get Air, the international corporation’s only franchise in Vermont.

More than a month after VTDigger first reached out to the gym, and following repeated interview requests, manager Logan Hill responded on Monday and apologized for a “breakdown in communication,” which is among the issues he said Get Air management is working on.

Wilhite still has not heard back from anyone at the gym, she confirmed this week.

“There’s no responsibility, accountability, and that is absolutely terrifying to me,” she said. 

Wilhite’s sons, ages 10 and 12, and other children who witnessed the March 27 incident are not being named by VTDigger because they are minors.

A Williston resident, Wilhite said her children and their friends had been going to Get Air for years for birthday parties and playdates. She said she had been concerned about the lack of oversight and had heard about younger children being bullied or harassed but had not personally encountered any serious issues — until that Sunday afternoon.

Wilhite dropped her sons off at the park around noon to play with some of their friends, and another mother planned to pick them up around 4 p.m.

When Nicole Atherton of Shelburne arrived, she later recounted, she could tell something was going on. Atherton’s 12-year-old son was worried about something that had happened in the trampoline park where they had been playing.

According to accounts from both parents, Wilhite’s sons were playing with foam snowboards they had rented there when some older children, who appeared to be teenagers, grabbed the toys and wouldn’t give them back. 

One of the older boys pointed one at the younger boys as if it was a gun and said, “I’ll fuck you,” according to the parents’ accounts. Shocked, Wilhite’s son reportedly said, “Don’t say that to me, I’m only 12.” The older boy effectively responded, “If you come into the bathroom I can rape you,” Wilhite said.

The older boys also taunted the younger ones using a homophobic slur, she added.

Atherton’s 12-year-old son, who was also there, said one of the older boys told him, “I can see your nipples” and flicked at his nipple through his T-shirt. The boys all left to report the incident at the front desk.

Atherton said her son was quite upset when she arrived. After he pointed out the older boys, she said she approached them and told them to go away and leave the kids alone. They seemed to listen, she said. 

The four or five boys in the group harassing the younger ones appeared to Atherton to be significantly older, most likely of high school age. She said she didn’t like that there were older kids and younger kids playing unsupervised there.

The gym area was busy but Atherton said she couldn’t spot any employees there to alert. But she found “at least five staff members” hanging out at the check-in desk. When she asked why they weren’t inside the gym, she was told they walk around when it’s busy, she said — an answer that left her unsatisfied.

Alison Cossette’s son was also present with Atherton’s and Wilhite’s kids. She said the 11-year-old witnessed some of what happened and went to the front desk to report it with Wilhite’s children.

Cossette, who lives in Williston, said she called the business the next day and spoke to a young woman at the front desk who agreed that such incidents shouldn’t happen. The employee said the manager was on vacation and many of the staff at the desk worked only part time.

The parents told VTDigger they tried to report the incident but found no system to do so. The staff at the front desk said they were concerned, but didn’t seem to know what to do, except to notify the manager who was not there. 

Hill, who said he has been working as manager of Get Air since February 2021, said an internal incident reporting system logs episodes ranging from a kid needing a bandaid to more serious incidents involving police or EMS.

Asked about the number of incidents logged, he said he could check with the corporate office. “I wouldn’t be able to provide you with a figure right now,” he said on Monday.

Police reports filed 

The police report on the Wilhite incident, completed and released to VTDigger on May 9, and an account relayed to VTDigger by Williston Police Officer William Bouffard both align with what parents told VTDigger. 

According to the police report: “The younger child wanted to hide behind a seat and the older kid stated, ‘If you fuck me you can hide behind this chair.’ Shortly after a comment was made, to the effect of the older kids should kill and rape the younger kids.”

The report also states that “at one point the older kids had ‘twisted the nipple’ of one of the younger kids.”

VTDigger obtained partially redacted Williston police reports for all of the times since January 2021 when police responded to Get Air, including 14 incidents involving juveniles. Five of those reports — including the Wilhite incident in March — were for more significant episodes. The reports on the four others show:

  • On April 9, a boy reported being sat on and punched in the head three times after a dodgeball he threw hit the other boy in the face. Parents reported the same boy called their son homophobic slurs and that he continued using other “deplorable language” as he was being escorted out.
  • On March 6, a parent reported an older boy bullied her son by pulling his shirt so hard he got burn marks on his neck.
  • On Nov. 18, 2021, parents reported their child being bullied and assaulted by a group of kids. They called him the N-word and threatened they would kill them and his family, according to the police report. He was spat at and placed in a chokehold until he couldn’t breathe. His neck hurt, he coughed and was checked out by medics. 
  • On July 23, 2021, police responded to speak with four juveniles who were “flipping off and making gestures” toward the front desk when there was an issue with payment.

The parents who spoke with VTDigger said they were aware of the choking and racist incident and said it was “horrific.”

Hill, the gym manager, said the staff is trained to de-escalate incidents and the business has a zero tolerance policy regarding bullying at the gym. But he said he could not speak to “specific incidents without permission from the involved parties.”

Williston Police Chief Patrick Foley told VTDigger that police hit dead ends in some of the cases because nobody from Get Air responded.

“I’m looking at a few of the cases where we attempted numerous times to get people to talk to us, and they refused to return our calls,” he said.

Get Air has trampoline parks in more than 60 locations around the U.S., as well as in Canada, Belgium and Japan, according to the company’s website. The Williston gym is the only one in Vermont. According to the website, the company hires staff who are 16 and older. 

A management website for franchise operators suggests a form that should be used to keep a record of incidents as “the key to lowering your insurance and liability.” Parents said that staffers at the Williston park were unable to outline a system or provide a list of incidents or complaints. 

The Williston location is owned by seven LLCs with addresses in California, Utah and Kentucky, according to the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office, with a registered agent address listed on Pine Haven Shores Road in Shelburne — at the location of a Quality Inn hotel.

Hill declined to say who owns the business. “I cannot give you that information,” he said in response to a question on Tuesday.

Wavering on waivers

There were no identifiable Get Air personnel in the play area at the time of the March incident, parents told VTDigger, even though the gym was crowded.

It wasn’t like that before the pandemic, said the parents, whose kids have been to the trampoline park before. One even has annual passes to it. There used to be identifiable employees in matching T-shirts, they said.

“I think it was just very unfortunate for (the kids) because it’s something that they were so excited about. I actually don’t let them go over there very often just because I don’t think it’s well supervised,” Wilhite said.

Hill said there are signs posted around the gym outlining the company’s zero tolerance policy for bullying or harassment. He and the staff often remind kids to adhere to park rules and intervene to ask them not to double bounce or throw a dodgeball too high, for example, he said.

In response to a question about rules and signage at the Get Air location, Hill sent a photo of a sign at the entrance to the jump area that reads, “Get Air has a zero tolerance policy for bullying. If you see bullying, say something to a staff member.”

Signs visible in the background of the photo outline “an assumption of risk” and park rules, both of which are outlined on the website, warning of the potential for “serious injury or death” from “an inherently dangerous recreational activity.” According to the website, the rules indicate there should be no double bouncing or roughhousing. They discourage somersaults and encourage kids under 46 inches tall to stay in the Little Air area.

A sign in the lobby at the entrance to the jump area at Get Air, Williston. Courtesy of Get Air

Parents also sign a ​​liability waiver and release, copies of which Wilhite said could not be printed out once they were sent. She said the desk was not able to provide a copy even though she filled out the copies online before her sons went in. 

When Hill responded to VTDigger this week, he would not provide a copy of the waiver form, saying it is only accessible online to people who fill out the online form.

Though he said he couldn’t speak to what happened in March, Hill said staffing depends on how busy the gym is — from one or two people on slow days to six or seven during busy times, with additional “floaters.” 

Wilhite said her children are quite independent and not shy. They know about stranger danger, the buddy system, to speak up in the face of wrongdoing and to find an adult if something goes wrong. And they did everything right, she said.

“I think they just were in shock that, you know, a young adult would ever speak to them in those terms and in that vulgarity in a place that's supposed to be supervised, so I think it took them a few days to really rationalize what happened,” she said.

She said she could not imagine what more timid kids could face.

“My big concern is the fact that the children reported it, and the adults did nothing,” Cossette said. “So it makes it clear not only to the parents that they’re not keeping a safe place, but additionally, it makes the children feel like reporting things doesn’t do anything, and that adults can’t be trusted to look after them.”

None of the three parents plan to continue to send their children there without adult supervision, they said.

No response

All three parents said they called and visited the Williston business multiple times but have not heard back.

Wilhite said she used the terms “sexual harassment,” “misconduct” and “unsafe minors” while speaking with the front desk staff and “can’t fathom how you wouldn’t address that, like, that day. I mean, that should be an emergency phone call.”

VTDigger called the Williston gym several times over the last month and visited twice. Young people working the front desk were unable to answer questions about the incident or the gym’s policy regarding supervision. The manager was not present during any of VTDigger’s inquiries and did not have a voicemail where a message could be left. Employees took down contact information and said they would relay it to the manager.

Two of the calls were fielded by staff at the corporate headquarters in Utah who tried to reroute calls to the Williston business but found no one there. They did not share emails or any method of lodging complaints but referred requests to the Williston Get Air manager — Hill — who did not respond to multiple calls and emails for more than a month.

The parents also called the police and filed reports. 

After calling about a dozen times and visiting Get Air about six times, Bouffard, the Williston police officer, said he finally heard back from Hill on April 22 and spoke about the need to identify the older kids and about looking at the customer logs and videos from the day.

The two spoke again on May 8, when Hill told Bouffard the cameras in the jumping area were not working due to an electrical issue, “and it’s been that way since before this incident. So there’s no video footage,” Bouffard said.

The descriptions have been generic — older kids, maybe high school age, with mustaches and ear piercings, Bouffard said. Without the video, police were unable to identify the suspects and the case was closed. 

Bouffard said the business had no cameras last year when police responded to a break-in at Get Air. While the business has cameras now, they are low-quality and “only cover the cash register and I think the main entrance and that’s it,” Bouffard said.

Hill said this week there are working cameras throughout the gym. He doesn’t recall the electrical issues mentioned in the police report and by Bouffard.

Police said another obstacle has been that reports are often filed days after the fact, making it more difficult to contact those who are said to be involved. They say cases are sometimes referred to prosecutors but often there’s not enough information to pursue a criminal case.

Foley, the police chief, said parents can also file complaints with the Attorney General’s Office, the Better Business Bureau or the Chamber of Commerce.

The Vermont Attorney General’s Office has one complaint on file from July 2020 about Get Air not upgrading a customer’s passes. The customer said they had made “numerous calls” and never heard back from the Williston business or from corporate offices.

“No communication, no email should be falling through the cracks,” Hill said this week, adding that difficulty and changes in staffing may have contributed to the missed connections. 

The business is trying to establish good lines of communication and backups, he said. “We have plenty of incidents that we’ve been able to respond (to) quickly and effectively,” he said, “so we’re always trying to improve and get better.”

Until then, Hill said people can email, call, leave messages at the desk or use the contact form on the website, which reaches Hill and corporate headquarters. He said he is also in the process of adding a separate phone line with voicemail.

Two months after the incident, Wilhite remains shocked about what happened and stunned she still hasn’t heard back from the company.

“Just that alone, you know, shows no responsibility, no remorse, no concern, which is just shocking to me,” she said.

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Auditi Guha

About Auditi

Auditi is Chittenden County editor at VTDigger. Originally from Calcutta, India, she graduated from Emerson College with an MA in journalism. She has worked as an editor and reporter for several newspapers, and in various beats. Most recently, she covered race and justice at Rewire.News, and higher education at the New Bedford Standard-Times. She previously worked at several Massachusetts newsrooms. She is a mentor for young reporters through the Report For America program, founded the Boston chapter of the South Asian Journalists Association, and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Email: [email protected]

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