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Carmel basketball hazing victim: “I don’t smile as much as I used to”

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The attorney for the one of the targets of hazing last season by teammates of his Carmel (Ind.) High School basketball team — three former members of which are facing misdemeanor criminal charges, not counting the other one who has already pleaded guilty, as a result of hazing incidents — put his client out there, sort of, on Nov. 12 for a news conference.

I say sort of because the rules of the road laid down by attorney Robert Turner included no identifying the victim, no identifying his parents, and no pictures. Still, this is the first time the public has heard from any of the victims of one of the more notorious and talked-about cases of youth sports hazing in recent memory. However, Fox59 News in Indianapolis said the victim holding the news conference was the subject of the Indiana Department of Children and Family Services sexual assault report that blew the lid off the case.

Here are some quotes from the victim, as relayed by The Indianapolis Star:

How has your life changed? “I don’t smile as much as I used to. I don’t laugh and joke as much as I used to.”

Did you embellish your story to authorities? “I’m sure I would not make something like this up. I would not be in the situation I am here if I were making this up. I am very very serious about this.” (Fox59 also has him saying, “Why would I make something like this up?”)

Any advice to other victims for getting authorities to listen? “You just have to keep saying it and saying it.”

Also, the Star quoted the victim’s mother: “You’re supposed to feel safe to go to your leaders, your coaches and your teachers, and know something is going to be done. … They (students) are watching everything that is going on, and saying, ‘what’s the point.’ Look at what we’ve been through and still nothing’s happened.”

In particular, she’s talking about the plea deal for Scott Laskowski, who the previous week had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal recklessness. Laskowski, the son of former Indiana University player and longtime IU basketball announcer John Laskowski, was sentenced to slightly less than a year of probation and 40 hours of community service. He also was ordered to stay away from the victim.

Despite the Department of Children and Family Services report saying that the victim was anally penetrated with foreign objects, no felony or sexual assault charges have yet been made against Laskowski and the three others who have been indicted in north suburban Indianapolis’ Hamilton County on misdemeanor charges: Robert Kitzinger, Brandon Hoge and Oscar Faludon, all of whom, like Laskowski, graduated in spring 2010.

The charges are related to incidents in Carmel’s locker room. Fox59 reported on Nov. 5 that it’s expected the other players will follow Laskowski’s lead and take plea deals, which would certainly eliminate any chance Laskowski would have to testify in their cases. (Also, the judge handling their case on Oct. 27 was arrested for drunken driving while on vacation in North Carolina.)

I say there are no felony or sexual assault charges “yet” because the prosecutor in west suburban Hendricks County is still investigating a hazing incident on the back of a team bus heading back from a January game in Terre Haute. Laskowski, Kitzinger and Hoge were suspended from the team for that incident (Faludon was suspended for the locker-room incident). There’s no word on when those charges might come.

Not surprisingly, the victim’s family — and its lawyer, who is the former public safety director for the Indianapolis police — feel like everyone involved has not investigated or dealt with the hazing case sufficiently. Turner has threatened lawsuits, and said during the Nov. 12 news conference that he will file a complaint with the U.S. Attorney to investigate the Hamilton County prosecutor, the players’ attorneys and others he said have manipulated witnesses. So far, these only have been threats.

In fact, Turner has had a lot of public bluster that hasn’t gone much of anywhere. But whatever Turner’s tactics, what will not change is that the victim will feel the effects of what happened forever, no matter what a court says. It’s cases like this that explain why, say, the Needham (Mass.) High School administration took a zero-tolerance stance toward supposedly far more innocent hazing with its girls soccer team. Hazing is a power trip, and a school trusts its students not to go too far with it at its own, and its students’, peril.


Needham soccer hazing, and why this douchebaggery keeps happening

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In March, I wrote a piece called “Why youth sports hazing happens: because adults say it can.” I’m delighted to report that my hard-hitting look at adult compliance in condoning and/or covering up hazing was a major factor in why, for example, prosecutors find it so difficult to convict or even file cases in the most egregious of examples, has had absolutely no effect, judging by the adults’ reaction when some Needham (Mass.) High School girls soccer players got suspended because of alleged hazing of teammates.

Four seniors and a freshman were suspended for activities that, news reports say, involved victims being led, blindfolded, on dog leashes, then hit in the face with pies. This happened after Needham clinched its conference title Oct. 29.

As hazing goes, this is certainly no broomstick-up-the-anus. But the school was right to take action. School administrators are often criticized for having zero tolerance for anything but zero tolerance, but it can’t condone hazing of any kind. In too many places, what started as an innocent ritual devolved into something far more sinister, sometimes including alcohol, sometimes including activities that could put perpetrators on the sex-offender list for life. If schools are going to take a hard line against bullying, then hazing is included. After all, in hazing, the victims are coerced or forced to participate, lest they be seen as bad teammates or stupid little pukes. Massachusetts since 1985 has had a state law that bars hazing in schools.

As you can imagine, many in the greater Needham community united in the face of such action — united so they could hire a lawyer to try to get an injunction overturning the suspensions, which happened right before the start of the state tournament. On Nov. 8, a judge refused to grant the injunction, saying students did not have an inherent right to participate in school sports, and that the plaintiffs failed to show they could win the case. On Nov. 9, Needham got smoked 7-1 by Brockton in the first round of the state tournament.

Hazing didn’t start at Needham this year. One of the most impassioned defenses of the soccer team was that hazing had gone on forever, but Principal Dickbag for some reason decided this was the year to ruin everybody’s life. Now, on some level, I can understand students — especially the players themselves — reacting this way. They are teenagers. Everything is a tragedy, and, yeah, it would suck to suddenly have your season taken away from you, especially if it’s something no one thought twice about for years.

But they are reasonable, dispassionate observers compared to some of the adults. Who do you think taught these kids to haze, and be outraged when they were told hazing wasn’t allowed?

I learned by watching you!

From the Boston Globe:

The mother of a junior on the Needham High School girls soccer team says that the suspensions of several players on the team for alleged hazing were too severe for what she called a “misguided attempt at team building.”

In an email to the Globe, Needham parent Sharon Lund said that the team was supporting both the players and the team’s coach, who also reportedly has been placed on leave. She said her daughter is a junior on the team who was not implicated in the incident.

“As the parent of an underclassman, I can safely say that the ENTIRE Needham Girl’s Soccer team and parents are UNANIMOUS in supporting each senior who has been placed on suspension and the coach who has been placed on administrative leave, and assert that the event in question in no way warrants the issuing of suspensions by Needham High School,” Lund said in the email. “In a nutshell, there was no intention to harm, nor was any harm perceived by team members, during a misguided attempt at team building.”

She continued:

“In my personal opinion, these girls have handled a serious mistake in a more mature fashion than either the NHS administration or the press has to date. This was an isolated intra-team issue that they resolved to everyone’s satisfaction amongst themselves with active support from the coach, and in the process strengthened the bonds amongst them. As some of the parents have so aptly pointed out, aren’t these the life skills that we want our daughters to have?”

Yes, not having that experience when I ran cross country and track in high school has always been a handicap for me when I got to the part of the job interview where I was blindfolded, led on a dog leash, and hit with pies.

More from the Globe:

In an interview, a 1988 graduate of Needham High School who said he was the godfather of one of the suspended students said he was shocked and disappointed that the girls were suspended.

“This is something that has been going on for years. It is nothing major, and everyone jumped to conclusions so quickly,” said Joshua Melia, a Needham resident. He said he was “angry and disappointed” on behalf of his goddaughter, a senior co-captain, and her teammates for “something so minor.”

“This was not bullying and it was not hazing, but that’s what they are calling it. To just label the kids in that way isn’t fair,” said Melia, who said he was a member of Needham High’s wrestling team, and recalled that minor-league teasing of freshmen team members was common in his day.

In an email to the Globe, Benji Eisenberg, who identified himself as a Needham High graduate, said “Hazing. What’s the big deal?”

“Hazing/initiation rites are one of the most important aspects of team building and bonding,” he said, adding that team “tryouts are almost a hazing experience in themselves.”

I was never in a fraternity, nor any organization where hazing was a rite of passage. Amazingly, I also have been part of organizations where team building and bonding happened, despite no one  having beer blasted up their rectums. So I don’t get this mindset that hazing is some necessary event to ensure team unity. Though the Stockholm Syndrome is, by nature, a unifying experience.

Especially if Yo La Tengo is involved.

At least in the Needham case, the school finally put its foot down, unlike in Bossier, La., where a middle school principal called hazing “tradition,” and in Carmel, Ind., where it took media and public pressure — and a call from child services — before high school administrators took seriously hazing accusations involving the boys basketball team that ended up with charges brought against four players.

So what’s going to stop adults from viewing hazing as anything more than unnecessary abuse? It’s a long train to that station.

When I’ve written about hazing, more often than not I’m writing about a fairly well-to-do community. That’s not to say that hazing doesn’t happen elsewhere, but well-to-do communities tend to have wealthier parents who, say, went through fraternity or sorority hazing rituals themselves (as victims and perpetrators), who are used to getting their way, who are ready to pull out all the stops for their kids as necessary no matter what monsters they might be, and who can pay for lawyers. In the communities, as well, there is pressure to sweep things under the rug so as not to mess up the unofficial idyllic status of their town, where kids aren’t just above average like they are in Lake Wobegon, but are fucking special and have big, important futures that, frankly, kids not from here will never have. Why would you ruin a good kid’s life over some innocent fun, hmmmmm? Needham fits the profile of that well-to-do community.

So, to continue waving my broad brush, the hazing will continue, no matter what school officials say, in these communities because they’re full of adult douchebags. To be fair, these communities also have plenty of adults who don’t support hazing. But enough of them do to ensure that hazing will remain a sad fact of life.

Written by rkcookjr

November 11, 2010 at 1:46 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.

Star athletes: Wear purple for the bullied in your school

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It might be a little late to pick out outfits for the next day, but maybe you’ve heard of the effort to have people wear purple on Oct. 20. No, not in solidarity with Brett Favre and his dong, but as a way to speak out against the bullying of LGBT kids, a few of whom, as you might have heard, have been killing themselves as an endgame to the abuse they’ve taken from peers (and probably others). I’ll be wearing my purple underwear, the only purple I have that’s office-worthy, as long as I wear pants over it.

I don’t have the cache of Neil Patrick Harris, nor do I have a video in the first place. I don’t have a solution to bullying, not when the history of humankind is rife with those tearing the shit out a perceived other with ruthless efficiency. (Such as the ruthless efficiency bullies display in picking the most vulnerable victims.) I can tell you, based on what I’ve seen in my own schooling experience and that of my children and others around me (I’ll just leave it at that) that anyone holding out a simple solution — like the radio jagoff I heard locally who talked about self-defense classes as the be-all end-all to ending bullying — is wrong.

However, I can identify one powerful group of influence that could help, if at least not stopping the bullies, making bullying of any kind seem totally uncool. That would be the school jocks.

I don’t mean the track team — I can tell you as a former high school track athlete how little influence we wield. I mean the star quarterback, the top basketball player, the kinds of athletes that are the center of the popular crowd at every school, the kind that set the agenda (intentionally or unintentionally) for manhood, and womanhood’s relationship with it.

A lot of kids at school know bullying isn’t cool, and that the bullied and the bullies are two groups of profoundly unhappy people. But most are afraid to say anything, lest they become a target. However, the star athletes have established their place as school leaders, in that the school isn’t shutting down for a pep rally for the debate team. The jocks don’t have to like the bullied — and the bullies — or invite them to the cool parties, or ask them if they would like to be set up to shag a cheerleader (or the athlete himself).

All I ask is that jocks be — nice. I mean, if you’re the bully, stop. If you see a bully, pull him (or her) aside and make clear that’s not cool. If you see the bullied, ask if they’re OK, and let them know you have their back. If you want to stand up during a pep rally and declare you don’t care who sticks what part in what hole of another person, that’s great, too. The purple on Oct. 20 is being pushed with LGBT bullying victims in mind, but there’s no reason you can’t also stand up for whatever other Other is the target of ridicule.

Of course, I know this is easier said than done. Athletes are notorious for not wanting to make waves. (Michael Jordan: “Republicans buy shoes, too.”) And I’m going to guess that a lot of jocks have parents who would be pissed beyond belief for Johnny Quarterback to be standing up for the weak.

I don’t think having jocks speak up for bullies solves everything. But if anybody can make a bullying culture go away, it’s them.

Thanks to Wall of Paul for reminding me of a great song that talks about “manhood” and sports in school, from a guy whose parents sent him to electroshock therapy to get rid of his homosexual tendencies.

Written by rkcookjr

October 19, 2010 at 10:29 pm

Hazing allegations shut down Minnesota HS football team, for now

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Hazing allegations involving a sports team — not unusual. Suspending practice while the school tries to get to the bottom of those allegations — that’s unusual.

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the varsity football program at Elk River (Minn.) High School, located in an exurb at the end of a commuter rail line connected with Minneapolis, was suspended Aug. 25 while school officials check into hazing allegations made by the parent of an apparent victim.

The school did not reveal the nature of the hazing, and apparently no one has sought medical attention related to it, according to the Elk River district. But the school has hired an attorney to conduct a third-party investigation. The district told the Star Tribune that all 54 players have been interviewed, with 15 of those players more closely tied to the allegations coming back for another round Aug. 26.

From the Star Tribune:

Superintendent Mark Bezek announced his decision to shelve the program “until further notice” in a meeting with about 200 parents and students Wednesday night at the high school.

“I am shocked and dismayed by these allegations,” Bezek told the gathering. “This district does not tolerate hazing or other unlawful activities.”

Bezek added, “This isn’t just kids fooling around. This has some very serious implications.”

One of those implications: that the school will get its ass sued off and/or get its name sullied if it doesn’t address the hazing allegations in a firm and forceful way. Ask Carmel, Ind., High School how much mental and financial pain has come from brushing off hazing allegations involving its boys’ basketball team, allegations that later become criminal cases against the players who allegedly perpetrated the treatment.

Of course, you’d also like to think that the school really was outraged on a moral level. Until I hear otherwise, I won’t take the cynical route outlined in the previous paragraph.

The Star Tribune reports that the players could be back on the practice field as soon as Aug. 27, and that Elk River’s  opening game is still expected to kick off as scheduled on Sept. 2. However, it will be interesting to see what is left of the team at that point. Unless the hazing allegations turn out to be completely baseless, you can consider Elk River’s season sufficiently ruined.

Written by rkcookjr

August 26, 2010 at 12:18 pm

How bullying can happen: mass parental indifference

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You don’t have to be a parent who explicitly encourages your child’s bullying behavior, or knows of it and doesn’t discourage it, for such abuse to happen at school. Sometimes, all it takes is good people doing nothing.

Such as at East Middle School in Biscoe, N.C., where 12 students face juvenile charges for sexually hazing and bullying 13 younger members of the school baseball and soccer teams. Fox 8 News in Greensboro is reporting the efforts the school is making to get counseling for the victims and institute new anti-bullying programs.

But the school already tried reaching out to parents three months beforehand — and their efforts were met with a collective shoulder-shrug.

From Fox 8:

Officials at East Middle School held a poorly attended bullying awareness and prevention program for parents just three months before a dozen students face assault and sexual battery charges in connection with a sports team hazing ritual.

Attendance records show six parents attended the program, which was held in January.

I can’t get too haughty about how East Middle School parents must be horrible and ignorant, because my son’s junior high hosted a cyberbullying session for parents, complete with a speaker from Vermont whose son committed suicide after a long stretch of being on the receiving end of such activity. About 150 chairs were set up in the school gym. Counting me, seven parents showed up.

Of course, some parents don’t show because they’re working, or they can’t get child care. But, really, these pitiful numbers speak — to me, anyway — about how much parents want to put their heads in the sand about bullying and hazing. They figure if their kid isn’t a bully, or a victim, who cares? Or, more than that, they could never imagine their child in either position, so why bother? Or, worse yet, they chalk up such behavior as a normal part of growing up, so kids should just suck it up and tough it out — just like they did.

I don’t think the schools — or myself — are asking for parents to be rabid anti-bullying activists. It would be nice, though, if they would acknowledge that the behavior exists, and it’s not a good thing.

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