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Carmel hazing update: A victim, er, perpetrator speaks

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A figure in one of the most notorious cases of school sports hazing in recent memory — and his family — were counseled by their attorneys to stay silent in the face of accusations of possible sexual crimes, intense media coverage and a backlash from some locals. After breaking their silence, the figure and his family proved their attorney provided wise counsel.

Scott Laskowski was one of four Carmel (Ind.) High School basketball players (now all graduated) who faced criminal charges following two separate hazing incidents, one on a team bus on the way back from a game, and one in the team locker room. Laskowski pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge related to the locker room incident, though he was suspended from the team and expelled from classes. Laskowski is the son of former Indiana University basketball player and announcer John Laskowski, making him, by accident of birth, the most prominent of the four accused. (Two others have pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in the locker room incident, while other charges have been dropped, and two players — not including Laskowski — are still going through the court system over the bus incident.)

I’ll save you the slog through a six-page story on The Indianapolis Star’s website to get to the meat (on page six):

When the Laskowskis finally decided to speak, they lashed out at the media and the school and the accuser. They said their son is the real victim. The school took one student’s word against their son’s. His accuser — whose family plans a $2.25 million lawsuit against the school district — is in it for the money. And the media excess was motivated by greed.

My response: boo fucking hoo.

I’ll give the Laskowskis that having stalkers (including one person arrested for doing so) posting “a sex offender lives here” signs on their lawn and following them through the streets of Carmel was way over the top, and I don’t blame the family for moving 65 miles south to Bloomington to get away from it.

But, for Christ’s sake, when you have a victim who is reported to have had various objects shoved up his anus, you don’t go around proclaiming yourself or your golden boy as “the real victim.” There is no way to come out of that unscathed.

The story dwells on all the information that wasn’t released because of laws governing school privacy and grand-jury testimony. (It’s nice to see that the Laskowskis and those sympathetic with the victim can agree on one thing — that the school totally mishandled the situation.) But it doesn’t shed a lot of light on what Laskowski did or saw.

His guilty plea came for, as he put it, holding the ankles of a victim attacked in the locker room, and he denies doing anything on the bus. OK, we’ll take him at his word. So what did Laskowski see on the infamous bus ride? Did he see something happen? Are the others guilty? Is the victim making this up? In six pages, either Scott Laskowski wasn’t asked, or the interview was conditioned on the reporter not asking. Or, given the Laskowski family’s self-absorption, at least as it came across in the story, nobody knows or cares.

Written by rkcookjr

January 4, 2011 at 12:25 am

Carmel hazing update — if one player pleads guilty, does he sing?

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The legally convoluted Carmel (Ind.) High School basketball hazing case(s) has its lasted twist and turn — one of the players is apparently ready to plead guilty to charges related to bullying a fellow player in the locker room. Scott Laskowski, 20, son of former Indiana University player and announcer John Laskowki, has a plea hearing scheduled for Nov. 4 in Hamilton County (Ind.) Court, which various legal experts contacted by local Indianapolis media say is where Laskowski and his attorneys would be expected to put forward a plea agreement.

If you want all the down-and-dirty details to one of the more infamous hazing cases of 2010, go to the search bar on the right for “Carmel,” and you should get everything.

But the short version is that Laskowski is one of four now-graduated players facing various misdemeanor charges on what have been called hazing attacks, or bullying attacks, or just plain attacks on team members (or one team member) on a bus back from a game in Terre Haute, 100 miles from the north Indianapolis suburb, and in the Carmel locker room. The case became particularly infamous, at least locally and among the readership that spiked when I posted about it, because school officials at first seemed more than happy to accept the team’s explanation that nothing big really happened — until state child protection reported that the assaults could be considered sexual in nature and resulted in injury to one of the victims.

Four Carmel players — Laskowski, Robert Kitzinger, Brandon Hoge and Oscar Faludon — face misdemeanor charges in Hamilton County for the locker room incident, a decision by the county prosecutor that itself caused a lot of controversy locally because there was a feeling the charges were light compared to the alleged offense. An investigation is still under way by the prosecutor in Hendricks County, in west suburban Indianapolis, where the bus assault was alleged to have taken place.

As I’ve written about before — and put “hazing” into that search bar on the right if you want more details — hazing cases are hard to win, because the defendants tend to circle the wagons, and because there is still a boys-will-be-boys mentality among schools and prosecutors that prevents them from cracking down on athletes, and because there is a fear at schools in well-heeled communities (which is where a lot of these cases seem to take place — such as Carmel) of a hit to their image and to “ruining” the future of “good” kids.

The most interesting part about Laskowski’s apparent interest in a plea deal is that, as experts, including Hamilton County Prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp, point out, in cases involving multiple defendants, one part of a plea deal is that the person then testifies against the others. Leerkamp doesn’t acknowledge that this is the case with Laskowski

But it would interesting if self-preservation is starting to take hold. After all, Laskowski is a “good” kid from a prominent family, and even though to some (such as the victim’s lawyer) the misdemeanor charges don’t go far enough, one wonders (OK, that one is me) if the calculation is being made that the longer this case lasts, the more Laskowski’s bright future starts to dim. If Laskowski does testify against his former teammates, at the least it would be a rare case of the wall breaking down when athletes get in trouble for hazing, bullying, or whatever the hell you want to call it.

Carmel hazing update: A grand jury is called, and a lawsuit is on the way

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One of the two prosecutors involved with investigating criminal charges related to hazing by Carmel (Ind.) High School basketball team members said in March that she didn’t see any reason for her inquiry to go “on and on.” Yet it’s nearly May, and on and on the criminal case goes — just as it appears a civil case is just beginning.

The latest development in the criminal investigation is that Hamilton County prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp, investigating a police report of hazing inside the Carmel locker room on Jan. 8 that may involve a sex crime, has called a grand jury to hear evidence in that case.

Fox59 in Indianapolis is reporting that the grand jury, which convened April 23, also is hearing evidence regarding three players accused of possible sex crimes for a Jan. 22 hazing incident that took place on the 100-mile bus ride back to the north Indianapolis suburb from a game in Terre Haute.

Other outlets are reporting merely that Hendricks County prosecutor Pat Baldwin’s investigation is taking longer than expected because there are “just more people to hear from.” Hendricks County, located west of Indianapolis, is the venue for that investigation because any crime is alleged to have taken place while the bus was motoring along there.

In any case, why a grand jury? Here is an explanation from WIBC radio in Indianapolis that seems to speak to a common reason why youth sports hazing cases don’t get prosecuted — all parties’ tendency to clam up unless legally compelled to speak:

Leerkamp says she turns to a grand jury in cases in which witnesses’ statements need to be pinned down under oath, or to help compel witnesses to testify. She says she’s also used grand juries in cases where she feels the community’s guidance is needed on whether charges should be filed.

In the Carmel case, another factor may be confidentiality. Prosecutors, school officials and Carmel police have released little information about the locker-room accusations and a separate investigation of an incident on the basketball team bus. In both cases, the city of Carmel released only heavily blacked-out versions of the police reports.

Maybe confidentiality wasn’t exactly the right word, but the point is that often those involved in hazing incidents, including the victims, dummy up like mobsters, making it difficult if not impossible for a criminal case to fly.

With a grand jury (available in all federal cases but in only half of states), a prosecutor has a chance to run a rough draft of the case by people from the outside world, and subpoena witnesses to testify. However, in Indiana, there are no guarantees that the accused will take the stand in front of the grand jury. From Gregg Stark, a Carmel-based defense attorney:

Experienced criminal attorneys know to advise a client that he or she need not appear before such a body if they are a target of a criminal investigation or restrict or eliminate their testimony altogether if their appearance could diminish their legal protections and incriminate them where called as a witness.

What might be surprising to people is the fact that a criminal defense lawyer may not appear before a grand jury once the client comes before it to give testimony.

Certainly, both the Hamilton and Hendricks county prosecutors are being extremely careful, as well they should if they want criminal charges to happen, and stick.

A criticism of the grand jury system is that prosecutors can slant the proceedings to get the indictment they want, but I don’t see that happening here. The case is too fragile and politically explosive — with a backlash possible from Carmel basketball supporters and whatever people of power the accused team members might know, or from anyone who feels like authorities have been too accommodating in the name of trying to keep Carmel’s image as a desirable, posh suburb from tarnishing.

Of course, as we might remember from the O.J. Simpson case, a civil suit doesn’t have nearly the hurdles a criminal case does to have every fact straight. If you follow the Carmel hazing case, you could learn this lesson all over again. From WRTV in Indianapolis:

The attorney for one of the victims in an assault involving Carmel High School basketball players has notified the school district that the family plans to sue.

Robert Turner was retained last month by one of two freshman boys who school officials previously said had been hazed by three senior players as the team returned home from a boy’s basketball game in Terre Haute on the night of Jan. 22.

Turner told 6News’ Joanna Massee that the suit will be filed in federal court and will allege, among other things, that the boy’s civil rights were violated.

Written by rkcookjr

April 27, 2010 at 11:15 pm

Carmel hazing update: Making 'appropriate behavior' more clear

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On March 8, Carmel Clay (Ind.) Schools superintendent Jeff Swensson, in a prepared statement he read at a school board meeting, said a review of student handbooks is in order following hazing allegations that ended getting four Carmel High seniors tossed off the basketball team, at least one victim injured enough to require a hospital trip, and police and media crawling all over the school.

It’s interesting Swensson said that. Because in a Feb. 24 news conference, Swensson said the district was clear in the student handbook that “inappropriate behavior” already was not tolerated. From that event, where Swensson read another prepared statement with the cadence and verve of someone who rehearsed every verbal tic for the benefit of lawyers:

“We are clear in advance about our expectations for appropriate behavior. [The] student handbook sets forth standard for that appropriate behavior.”

At the time, the only issue was three senior players — Scott Laskowski, Robert Kitzinger and Brandon Hoge — “bullying” two freshmen Jan. 22 on the back of a bus on a 100-mile trip back from a game in Terre Haute. The school had not yet suspended Oscar Faludon for his alleged attack in a locker room. Both cases are being investigated by Carmel police, with possible charges including criminal deviate conduct — a felony and a crime that puts you on the lifetime sex offender registry.

Also, at that point the story seemed somewhat in control for Carmel schools, until local media pounded on police to release their reports, which even heavily redacted showed possible cases of shocking brutality, at least shocking if you think of suburban student-athletes as future leaders of America, rather than future prison roomies.

That police investigation is still ongoing, but the school board has acknowledged it’s getting intense pressure from many in the community to get this settled, to have the alleged offenders shot on sight (or at least sufficiently punished), and to figure out how they’re going to guarantee that their kids can go to school and play sports without worrying about some power-mad or otherwise disturbed teammate committing acts of violence against them.

As for that Carmel student handbook, WTHR-TV in Indianapolis, the local NBC affiliate, notes that it barely mentions hazing:

The current rules appear to fall far short of that goal. Carmel High School’s student handbook clearly prohibits bullying, but says nothing of hazing. Its handbook for athletes devotes two-and-a-half pages to the criteria for athletic awards.

But hazing? There’s a single line prohibiting horseplay, roughhousing, hazing and initiations – beneath the warnings to wear proper clothing and drink plenty of water.

Of course, merely adding more verbiage to the student handbook isn’t going to stop hazing, any more than a protective order prevents someone’s dangerous boyfriend from stopping over. Swensson also discussed other means of fighting hazing, such as reviewing supervision practices. In the bus incident, the seniors weren’t supposed to be on that bus, and the coaches on the bus, at most, walked to the back of the bus and told everyone to be quiet.

Swensson also said he was “deeply troubled” by the allegations. As well he should be. In that Feb. 24 news conference, Swensson spent much more time talking about how much the Carmel schools punished “inappropriate” behavior and were clear in their desire for “appropriate” behavior, using both words so much you could have made an inappropriate, or appropriate, drinking game out of them.

However, it would be unfair to pick on Swensson, and Carmel, speaking of each as if its reaction were some outrageously unique act. The most depressing part of the whole saga is that it has happened at other schools (even Carmel, once before), it probably is happening at other schools right now, and it certainly will happen at other schools later.

States — looking at college fraternities and sororities — have passed anti-hazing legislation, with Utah a notable case of a state considering such a law now. While Carmel is a problem, it is not the problem. The problem is that somehow, someway, students get a tacit OK from parents, coaches and administrators that hazing is no big deal. And that if something happens to make it a big deal, too many people in the community argue that everyone else is making too big a deal out of it.

Today's Carmel hazing update: how y'all are screwing up the police

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A few links for those of you who are following the cases of the four Carmel (Ind.) basketball seniors suspended for their roles in alleged assaults (sexual and otherwise) on teammates, three of them on a bus and one in a locker room. Here is what made news tonight, right before Carmel began postseason play in its own sectional. (In Indiana, everyone makes the playoffs, and every team starts playoffs in a sectional, as true today in four-class basketball as it was when Hickory faced Terhune.)

WRTV (ABC) — Carmel Clay Schools board president Jeff Carter says after the police investigation of the incidents is over, new policies will be put in place to encourage “more active oversight.” He doesn’t explain what that means, but it might be something like, “Coaches, get off your asses and see what’s going on in the back of the bus.”

WTHR (NBC) — Carter says school board members have received up to 30 calls from parents some nights. “I can tell you there are parents who are unhappy. They’re nervous about the safety of their children; I understand that completely. Some of them are downright angry… I would love to have the whole thing over today, but I also want it done right because we want to know exactly what happened. The Board will not tolerate this.” He also confirmed that security recording on the bus coming back from Terre Haute Jan. 22 have been erased, apparently when “school officials pulled it to review an altercation involving other students.” Said Carter, “The time between when we were notified, and when we could have pulled the disc out of there was so long, that there was already something else that had transpired and it had already been taken out.” The police investigation didn’t start until a month after the apparent time of the incident, which sent one freshman to the hospital.

City of Carmel news release — The city attorney explains why it can’t release more information that the two heavily redacted police reports it’s previously issued.  It’s long, but I’ll summarize: so the media doesn’t fuck things up for the police.

From city attorney Douglas Haney:

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Not the same Mr. Haney who runs the Hooterville phone company.

The City of Carmel Police Department is in the midst of a criminal investigation into serious allegations of abuse involving Carmel High School students. This investigation is being conducted by five veteran police investigators and involves the interview of more than 60 potential witnesses. The City is doing all it can to ensure that this investigation is carried out in a careful, thorough, and professional manner. The City is very concerned however, that its investigation could be unintentionally compromised, and future criminal convictions imperiled, by undue witness influence caused by rumors, blogs, and news reports.

Studies have shown that the memories of witnesses, and especially those of children, can be influenced and tainted by post-event information. This can occur in several ways. If witnesses observe an incident and then read or view additional information about the incident, they often integrate this latter information into their memory of the event. Once this integration occurs, it is often impossible to disengage the after-acquired information from the initial memory. In fact, studies show that up to 25% of witnesses “remember” post-event information as if they had actually observed it as part of the event. …

In addition to the risk of tainting witness memories, explicit post-incident information about the alleged assaults now under investigation can severely hamper our investigation. This can occur in two ways. First, in order to test the veracity of witness statements, a police investigator often withholds key incident information during a witness interview. If the witness can remember this withheld information on his or her own, this greatly increases the reliability of the testimony. Of course, this time-tested method of getting to the truth is thwarted if a witness already knows explicit incident facts through secondary sources. Second, although the City is taking great pains to respect the privacy of the victims of, and the witnesses to, this incident, the mere possibility of detailed media coverage of police interviews will– and already has — caused witnesses to reconsider stepping forward with information that is vital to this investigation and to a later successful prosecution.

Moreover, it is important to follow a process for determining guilt that does not pre-judge a suspect. Our judicial system is one of the traditions that make the United States different than most other countries. We do not try cases in the media. We do not convict on the basis of rumor, unsubstantiated statements and innuendo. We convict only upon proof of guilt as the result of a trial process that protects the rights of the accused. That is our history and our tradition. We should not disregard it, particularly in a case that involves our most important asset: our children.

The City understands the desire of the media to learn the facts surrounding these incidents as quickly as possible. However, it asks the media to also consider the need of the Carmel Police Department to conduct its investigation without witness influence, intimidation or interference. Rumors, sensationalism and misinformation only hamper this process, and provide a good defense attorney with arguments that credible witness testimony has been unduly influenced by post-incident information. As serious as these allegations are, it would be absolutely tragic if any perpetrators proved to have committed these crimes were to escape justice due to the inadmissibility or unavailability of vital eyewitness evidence.

On behalf of the media, I’ll take the apparently humongous risk that Carmel police are competent enough at their jobs to figure out how to get reliable information even with big, bad reporters sniffing around. It would be absolutely tragic if any prepetrators proved to have committed these crimes to escape justice due to the inability of police to not be afraid of reporters’ shadows.

ALSO: Fox 59 in Indianapolis quotes a local defense attorney regarding the Carmel statement about how the media could screw up witnesses.

“I have never seen a situation where media attention of a case causes a witness to change their story. I think the parents, the coaches, the administrators – those are the people who will influence what the story is,” said [Todd] Woodmansee.

Woodmansee says he believes the way Carmel officials are handling the case is perpetuating the story, and not the media.

“It’s fascinating to me that Carmel would go through such great lengths to try and prevent the media from getting to the bottom of what happened in this particular case,” said Woodmansee.

By the way, Fox 59 has a new reporter on the Carmel story: Julie Loncich, in for Kim King. I’m not sure whether this is permanent arrangement, though I wouldn’t blame the station for taking King off the story, despite her breaking news such as the first interview with one of parents of the hazing victims, after she had apologize on-air for making a tasteless comment to a cellphone-camera wielding Carmel student who was goading her.

Written by rkcookjr

March 2, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Carmel hazing case blows up on Senior Day

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Tonight (Feb. 26) was supposed to be a celebration for the Carmel (Ind.) High School basketball team, the seniors in particular, what with it being the final regular-season home game, and designated Senior Day. One problem: four out of the five seniors aren’t there because they are suspended as police investigate whether they committed any sexually related crimes related to hazing.

I’ve been updating the situation at my old high school on my original post, but events are moving so quickly, I figured I’d better start another one so the Feb. 25 post didn’t grow to 10,000 words. Only a few hours before Senior Day activities were set to tip off, the Carmel Police Department, with the local TV news stations breathing down its neck, released its second police report related to misdeeds that might involve athletes.

That report is investigating possible criminal deviate conduct, sexual battery with threat of force and criminal confinement related to a Jan. 8 attack in a Carmel locker room. What exactly is alleged isn’t known — the report is heavily redacted. But it has to be pretty serious to have police thinking about three felonies, the first two of which, individually, would put you in the state’s sex offender registry.

Police filed report on the alleged attack Feb. 22 while interviewing an alleged victim of three senior basketball players. They were suspended from school for a Jan. 22 “bullying” (what the school is calling it) incident on a 100-mile bus ride back from a game in Terre Haute. In among the few areas of the police report that weren’t Dick Cheneyed, the officer noted that he was informed by a victim of the bus incident (a victim who had to go to the hospital for his injuries) there were “ongoing issues that were occurring in the locker rooms at Carmel High School.” The Jan. 8 incident is the only one, as of yet, that police are investigating beyond the bus incident, which also is looking into whether felonies occurred, including sex crimes. The players, already acknowledged by the school as being suspended, are Robert Kitzinger, Brandon Hoge and Scott Laskowski, the latter the son of former Indiana University player and current television announcer John Laskowski.

In what may or may not related, a fourth senior basketball player, Oscar Faludon, was suspended from school for allegedly attacking another student in the boys’ locker room. Police have not said whether there is a link, or not, between that case and the newest police report.

It is extremely unfortunate for the one senior, Alex Payne, who has so far kept his head above the fray, that his special night has been ruined. (Me not living in Carmel anymore, I’m still trying to find out whether Senior Day was canceled or otherwise scaled back.) But it hasn’t been ruined just by teammates who apparently were on a serious power trip… heck, I don’t know WHAT their problem was.

Senior Day also has been ruined by all the adults involved, or better yet not involved.

The coaches who didn’t pay attention to what was going on behind them on the bus.

The coaches who let seniors onto the freshman bus against policy in the first place.

The head basketball coach, who in his own statements has made clear he’s much more concerned about how this affects his won-loss record than the children involved.

The coaches who failed to monitor what was happening in their own locker rooms.

The administrators who tried to bury their heads in the sand about this and had an investigation forced upon them. Listen to the principal in the clip below, and prepare to be appalled:

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The police who, allegedly in the name of children’s privacy, perhaps illegally refused to release documents until the Indiana’s state public access watchdog was sicced on them.

An adult culture that made the school bus victim(s) so fearful, the kids themselves were afraid to step up and say anything — this conduct came to light only because a parent overheard it while at the school, and because the hospital had to inform the Department of Child Services about the circumstances and nature of the school bus victim’s injuries.

One bit of kudos I have to give is to much-maligned local television news. Indianapolis’ four major TV news operations have been all over this case, and it’s notable that the reports police have released are emailed straight to them — and not to any print media. Ouch. In fact, local TV news has broken every bit of significant information on the story.

POSTGAME FOLLOW-UP: Carmel beat Brebeuf Jesuit Prep, for those keeping score. However, Indiana blogger Kent Sterling reports that lone senior standing Alex Payne got a nice round of applause when he was introduced with the starting lineup — and that Brebeuf’s rooting section didn’t, as the kids say, go there on Carmel’s problems. The only incident, such as it were, was when the crowd spotted one television reporter who has been particularly aggressive on the hazing stories:

The only borderline moment was when Fox-59’s Kim King walked into the gym.  [Your Kid's Not Going Pro editor's note: this being Indiana, a 4,000-seat facility is called a "gym."] I didn’t see her until she was in front of the scorer’s table.  You have to love this woman, unless you’re a Carmel student as you’ll read in a minute.  She is aggressively pursuing a story that is not going to lead to a pretty end for the high school in whose gym she is walking, but she doesn’t slip in the back door.  Nope, Kim walks right down to the floor during halftime and crosses in front of the scorer’s table and then the Carmel bench.  She stands in the corner with a person I’m guessing is her producer, and the crowd became a little quiet and started pointing.  Then there was a bit of huddling, followed by the chant “Go home, Kim!  Go home, Kim!”  Some of the parents laughed, which I thought was absurd because it was neither clever nor funny.  If Carmel is a school filled with as many smart kids as they claim, they should have come up with something witty.

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