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Posts Tagged ‘Terre Haute Indiana

Carmel hazing update: indictments handed down, of players and society

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Here’s the tally, presented May 17, from the long-simmering hazing investigations involving four senior basketball players at Carmel (Ind.) High School:

* Oscar Faludon — one count battery, Class A misdemeanor, two counts criminal recklessness, Class B misdemeanor

* Scott Laskowski — three counts criminal recklessness, Class B misdemeanor

Both indicted in relation to locker room incidents at Carmel High. They will be tried in their home of Hamilton County (north suburban Indianapolis).

* Brandon Hoge — one count battery, Class A misdemeanor, one count criminal recklessness, Class B misdemeanor, one count battery, Class B misdemeanor

* Robert Kitzinger — one count battery, class A misdemeanor, one count criminal recklessness, Class B misdemeanor, one count battery, Class B misdemeanor

Both indicted in relation to an incident on a team bus driving back from Terre Haute. They will be tried in Hendricks County (west suburban Indianapolis), where the criminal conduct is alleged to have taken place.

I’ll have more on this later. I’m watching the news conference being streamed on Fox59.com.

A quick take:

The grand jury, which heard evidence from at least 57 witnesses, did not come back with any sex crimes or felonies, as alleged in the first incident reports. Hamilton County Prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp says the school cooperated fully and is putting a peer-to-peer program in place to help ensure these incidents don’t happen, or if they do, they don’t come out a month after the fact, as happened in the basketball case. However, she did say the school’s initial discussion of the hazing not rising to the level of criminal activity was a result of administrators not having enough information at the time. The grand jury looked at evidence related to three coaches who were supervising, or should have been supervising, at the time of the incidents, but decided no charges should be brought against them.

Leerkamp isn’t divulging details on the indictment, which is sealed because it came from a grand jury. However, she’s very publicly indicting the culture that led to the alleged incidents. In many cases, she said, students interviewed proffered the view that the victims brought it on themselves.

“How does a victim ask to be violated?” Leerkamp said. “That attitude was out there” that a victim indeed does.

Will the players get convicted? They’ve retained Jim Voyles, probably the best defense lawyer in the Indianapolis area. If the East Coast lawyers Mike Tyson’s team hired let Voyles, as a hometown assistant, try the case in the Indianapolis court instead of just push paper, Tyson would have never seen a day in jail, because he never would have been convicted of rape.

The prosecution also will have to deal with, by its own admission, that the kids got the attitude that victims deserve their fate from the adults around them. “I have jurors who have said a women asked to be raped, because of what she was wearing, and that a child asked to be molested, because they crawled on the lap” of an adult who had previously violated them, Leerkamp said.

How can athletes get away with hazing? Because adults allow them to.

“That’s at the core of what happened at Carmel High School, and the core of what we have to deal with,” Leerkamp said.

Carmel hazing update: Prosecutor close to decision on charges

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The long, slow process of whether to charge three Carmel (Ind.) High School basketball players related to a hazing incident, which apparently took place aboard a school bus carrying them back from a game, appears to be coming close to an end. And the end doesn’t sound good for those players.

Hendricks County prosecutor Patricia Baldwin told WTHR-TV in Indianapolis that “I don’t see any reason why this needs to go on and on. It really ought to be able to be wrapped up relatively quickly.” Baldwin received the case two weeks ago from Hamilton County, Carmel’s location, because the alleged hazing took place in Hendricks County (west of Indianapolis), after a stop at an Arby’s in the town of Cloverdale in the western part of that county.

Baldwin confirmed that the three players — Scott Laskowski, Robert Kitzinger and Brandon Hoge, all seniors — being investigated are all over the age of 18 (logical to assume, considered Indiana’s kindergarten cutoff date is June 1, but this is the first time any authority has acknowledged their ages). Baldwin also told the Indianapolis television station that there is “about 10 different things that you could look at that come under sexual crimes.”

Save for a few interviews and a hoped-for look at bus security video (which apparently was already recorded over when Carmel police started investigating in late February), Baldwin says she’s got everything.

I’m not sure why Baldwin decided to tell a local television station where she stood. I’m guessing it might have something to do with the hue and cry coming from Carmel about the case. But I would suspect that the Laskowski, Kitzinger and Hoge families better firm up their legal representation, fast, because it sounds like Baldwin is ready to press on.

To recap: on Jan. 22, on a 100-mile trip back to the north Indianapolis suburb from a game in Terre Haute, two freshmen reportedly were assaulted on the back of a team bus, one of whom suffered injuries serious enough to necessitate a trip to the hospital. Despite the presence of coaches on board, apparently no one, at least at Carmel High, knew something very wrong happened until a parent overhearing a rumor and an official with Indiana’s child protection services said something. Laskowski, Kitzinger and Hoge were suspended from school for five days, beginning Feb. 19, and missed the final days of the basketball season.

Carmel police released a heavily redacted report, filed Feb. 22, on the allegations against the players, which included assault and criminal deviate conduct — a sex crime. (Baldwin told WTHR-TV that potential charges could include criminal deviate conduct, sexual battery and child molest, given the alleged perpetrators were older than 18, an the alleged victims younger than 18.)

Baldwin is not handling an investigation into a Jan. 8 locker room incident in which Carmel police, in another heavily redacted document, reported similar possible crimes as the bus incident. Senior Oscar Faludon was suspended by the school for the locker room incident, though he has not been charged with any crime. The Hamilton County prosecutor is handling that investigation because the alleged crime took place there. Under Indiana law, the prosecutor of the location where a crime is purported to have taken place is responsible for bringing any charges.

At this point, like in South Hadley, Mass., where charges were brought against nine students related to cyberbullying and/or physically bullying a student who eventually killed herself, it does not appear that Carmel school officials are likely to be held criminally culpable for anything that happened with the basketball team.

In the case of South Hadley, school officials were found to have known of the extent of bullying against 15-year-old Phoebe Prince. So far in Carmel, administrators and coaches have pleaded ignorance to anything that has happened. However, this WISH-TV interview with principal John Williams that aired Feb. 22 is going to be the grist for the inevitable, necessary lawsuit against the school district for its failure to protect its students.

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The key quote is: “I still am pretty comfortable with what happened on that bus and our knowledge of what took place on that bus.” Williams also denied parents had ever called to complain about bullying.

I hope he’s ready to say those words in a deposition.

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.

Carmel hazing update: 1998 revisited, and time to take off the tinfoil hat

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The other day I noted that at Carmel (Ind.) High School, center of criminal investigations into alleged violent and sexual crimes into two separate hazing incidents involving the boys basketball team, had a similar situation pop up in 1998: three senior swimmers accused of harassing, beating and sexually assaulting a freshman teammate in what may or may not have been a case of hazing. I also noted that I couldn’t find any record of what happened to the alleged victim’s lawsuit against the school district and the swimmers.

WISH-TV in Indianapolis got a hold of the court documents and found the boy’s attorney. (Thanks to the intrepid Your Kid’s Not Going Pro reader who tipped me.) Tonight (March 5) the station aired a report that while a bit over the top in linking the swimming incident to the basketball incident — hey, it was 12 years ago, and none of the administrators overseeing (or not) things then are not the ones overseeing things (or not) now — do provide some disturbing parallels into how these incidents happen, and get so out of control. Most disturbing, perhaps, to those who want to see Carmel’s basketball players, coaches and school administrators hanging in the courtyard at dawn is how the 1998 case ended up being resolved.

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Actually, the most direct parallel is with the three seniors being investigated for assaulting two freshman teammates Jan. 22 on a bus trip back from a game in Terre Haute, a 100-mile trip. Like in that case, the victim apparently never stepped forward for whatever reason (in the swimmer’s case, fear that no one would believe three well-liked teammates would do such a thing), and the apparent assaults came to light only when the victim was injured badly enough to go to the hospital, which reported the injuries to the state’s Child Protective Services division.

In each case, coaches and administrators initially appeared to either not believe the victim or failed to appreciate the gravity of the situation. According to WISH-TV, the swimming coach told the freshman, when he complained, to tough it out, that a little “horseplay” was part of being a freshman. In the basketball case, Carmel principal John Williams went on television — WISH-TV, to be exact — to note that, even after a police report on the alleged assault was released, “I’m still pretty comfortable with what happened on that bus and our knowledge of what happened on that bus.” Depending on how the case develops, that sentence could be his career epitaph. (After all, the three seniors were suspended from school and the team for whatever happened on that bus.)

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However, Williams might be OK in the end. In the swimming case, then-coach Tony Young was charged with failing to report a crime — but those charges eventually were dismissed. The swimmers never faced criminal charges. The lawsuit against the school and the swimmers, filed in 2002, was settled for an undisclosed amount soon before trial was scheduled to begin, according to WISH-TV.

One incident in 1998 and another in 2010 do not a pattern of violent hazing behavior make. However, each case shows a common pattern in any school where such an incident emerges: victims are afraid to speak out, coaches don’t want to hear it, and administrators are either left in the dark, intentionally or by their own desire to not hear anything they will have to recite later in a deposition.

That’s why I’m calling for everyone across these Internets who are screaming cover-up to can it. Hazing cases are notoriously difficult to investigate, because you have a lot of potential witnesses, and you have a lot of people who don’t want to say what they’ve seen. (A reason cited as to why the prosecutor in Grand Rapids, Mich., elected not to file criminal charges in a hazing case involving a high school cross country team.)

No doubt, the authorities in Carmel don’t want a bruise on the Indianapolis suburb’s well-polished image as a high-class, desirable place to live. But if no charges end up being filed, if no coach or administrator loses his or her job, it will be a testament to police and administrative incompetence and/or witnesses refusing to say exactly what they know.

On the other hand, those across these Internets, including Carmel’s own city attorney, who are screaming about how the mean ol’ media is attacking the Bestest City in the Universe and harassing poor, innocent high school kids also need to can it. Without the media attention, it’s doubtful there would be a police investigation in the first place. Maybe that’s what those screamers wanted. If there’s any “cover up,” it’s going to come from community pressure to get basketball players and other witnesses not to talk, not an orchestrated campaign by the police.

(Oh, by the way, Carmel lost at home tonight in its own sectional to neighboring Indianapolis ‘burb Westfield, so everybody’s season is over, not just that of the four seniors.)

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