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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.

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: The mayor says you hate because you're jealous

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A lot has happened in the Carmel (Ind.) High School basketball hazing case since I last posted about it, including my own self being interviewed by The Indianapolis Star about it in a quote that had the feel of, “Well, we talked to him, so we might as well use something from him.”

However, I’ve stayed away from the blow-by-blow detail of everything that’s happened since the four now-former players were indicted on misdemeanor charges related to abuse of their teammates, in part because I was getting a little tired of writing about it, a decision that came at great risk to my readership statistics, given Carmel-related articles make up four of my top 10-read posts.

However, Carmel Mayor James Brainard said something the other day that’s drawing me back in. From an interview with WRTV television in Indianapolis:

Carmel Mayor James Brainard said jealousy is fueling intrigue into charges against four former high school basketball players accused in assaults on younger teammates.Quantcast

“I think it gets sometimes more attention because it’s Carmel,” Brainard [said]. “I think that the community is an affluent community, so sometimes I think … when something doesn’t go perfectly, or doesn’t go right, that it gets more attention than that same sort of thing might get somewhere else.” …

Brainard said it is time for the community to move on and focus on other things beside the case.”We’re building a new community here,” he said. “All sorts of good things are happening.”

Carmel, where I graduated from high school, where my mother still lives, has been transformed under Brainard from your standard-issue bedroom community into a model of suburban development, with an emphasis on arts, green development and other strategies to make the city of 70,000 feel like its own unique place, rather than a mere, wealthier extension of Indianapolis. Yes, all sorts of good things are happening.

However, by his comments on the Carmel case, Brainard gave evidence of why my late father often referred to him as “Mayor Brain-dead.” Even if the community’s affluence helped to drive the intensity of the coverage on the hazing case, the maya sayin’ y’all playa hatin’ is a ridiculous statement. Another major factor in driving the intensity of the coverage is the shock of four senior basketball players who, allegedly, took it upon themselves to ram various items up the rectums of freshmen, for no other apparent reason than they were freshmen.

I haven’t believed that the Carmel school system, the Carmel police, the Hamilton County prosecutor’s office and the Illuminati have conspired to try to put a lid on the Carmel hazing case. However — same as I feel about whether David Stern bent an envelope to make sure the New York Knicks won the 1985 draft lottery so they could get Patrick Ewing — I don’t doubt that everyone involved WOULD like this case to go away. It’s a subtle difference. A conspiracy assumes that everyone knew what was going on, and tried to squash all word about it. In the case of Carmel authorities, I believe that they didn’t 100 percent of the time try to find out everything that happened. In some part, that might be because they couldn’t conceive of how awful it was, that “good” kids from their community would never be capable of doing such bad things.

As the Carmel case makes its way through the legal system, Mayor Brainard is best staying out of the discussion about it, and instead limit his public comments to subjects such as, say, roundabouts.

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By the way, the fear of so many Carmel playa hatas is that because none of the four — Robert Kitzinger, Brandon Hoge, Scott Laskowski and Oscar Faludon — were indicted on any sexual assault charges, any punishment won’t have their desired effect of a tar-and-feathering, public hanging or, at least, a permanent spot on the sex offender registry.

However, that’s not to say that even the charges of battery (the worst any of them face) aren’t going to have some long-term effect, no matter what happens in a courtroom.

The Indianapolis Star on June 10 quoted a spokesman from DePauw University, where Kitzinger is supposed to be playing basketball next season, that it’s possible he won’t be there when the fall begins. Kitzinger is trying to follow in the footsteps of his father Kirk, a Carmel attorney (not representing any of the players in this case) who played at DePauw from 1976 to 1980.

At DePauw, university spokesman Christopher Wells confirmed that a number of alumni have contacted the school to express concern about Kitzinger, who is slated to play on the school’s basketball team in the fall. University officials want to talk to Carmel school leaders and Kitzinger’s family, Wells said.

“Anytime we become aware of a situation that occurs after admission, we’re going to try to get as much information as possible,” Wells said. “We have an expectation that our students are going to end their high school career as it began.”

University officials have not indicated when a decision will be made.

Kitzinger and the three other seniors were expelled but received their diplomas through online classes offered by the high school. Wells said DePauw also could halt Kitzinger’s enrollment if it finds Web courses weren’t equal to in-class work.

Written by rkcookjr

June 10, 2010 at 4:09 pm

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.