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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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