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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

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