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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.

Youth baseball team trip put at risk by coach's arrest, checkbook's seizure

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I’ll get the happy ending out of the way. The Taylor, Pa., 15- to 18-year-old American Legion baseball team will make it to a tournament in South Carolina after all, despite the arrest of its coach, thanks to a $1,000 donation July 13 from employees at Semian Real Estate Group.

The community at large has raised another $1,000, but maybe the Semian employees felt a little bit worse about the possibility the team couldn’t travel. After all, it apparently was their co-worker who put the trip at risk.

Phil Godlewski, 27, was head coach of the team until getting arrested July 9 on charges relating to his alleged sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl. Maybe this with the first time police got involved, but Godlewski’s job as a high school baseball coach ended when the victim’s mother (apparently of the same girl at the center of the criminal investigation) complained to school officials about alleged inappropriate contact with her daughter.

According to police, the relationship started when Godlewski helped the victim cope with the death of a boyfriend. “All right, the boyfriend died! Now I can make my move!”

(As an aside, in so many of these coach-player relationships, the player and the coach have gotten closer because the coach is helping the player through a difficult time, anything from a death or a divorce to a hangnail or a mosquito bite. If your child is seeking the counsel of a coach for deep conversation and coping, immediately remove that child from the team. Trust me.)

So after Godlewski’s arrest, he was suspended from coaching the Legion team, under that organization’s rules.

One problem: the $2,000 for the team’s South Carolina trip was in Godlewski’s personal bank account — not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that, though for many reasons it’s probably better the money is kept in a separate, team account. (As another aside, Godlewski was in hot water with Legion authorities over having scheduled an out-of-state trip to a non-Legion tournament while his team was scheduled to play Legion games, which under league rules would have forced Taylor to forfeit those games.)

However, no one from the Legion team can get to the money (one of the many reasons it’s good not to have it in someone’s personal account). Police seized two cars, as evidence, in which Godlewski and the girl were alleged to have sexual contact. The cars contained bats, balls, equipment — and Godlewski’s checkbook.

Hence, why the team had to scramble to raise $2,000.

Fortunately, the people of Taylor, Pa., have come through, in particular Godlewski’s co-workers. They just need to make sure the checkbook for the account doesn’t end up in the wrong, well-worn back seat.

Written by rkcookjr

July 14, 2010 at 12:50 am

Hazing in sports has a news explosion

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Lest one thinks Carmel, Ind., is the only place where youth sports-related hazing occurs, based on my breathless coverage of its boys’ basketball team’s situation, I bring you updates from just the past few days regarding other cases. Although Carmel is back in the news, too.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — According to KOAT-TV, a plea agreement is on hold regarding a 2008 hazing case in which six now-former Robertson (N.M.) Las Vegas High football players were accused of sodomizing teammates with a broomstick during football camp. A judge is examining the guilty plea of Steven Garcia, one of those players. On March 30 he pleaded guilty to rape and other charges, but in such a way that he can maintain his innocence even while being technically found guilty, and that he can be treated as a juvenile. Some parents shouted “no deal,” but a special prosecutor said others want it so they can put the incident behind them.

BREWER, Maine — A former Brewer High softball coach who sued the school over her firing has dropped her case March 31. According to the Bangor Daily News, Kelly Jo Cookson claimed she was fired in 2006 because she is a lesbian. However, the school said the firing was because of hazing. For example, according to the Daily News, the school said Cookson “had allowed student athletes to walk barefoot through sheep manure during a team picnic … .” Cookson dropped the case after the school refused to settle on the eve of a trial after two courts had supported the school’s contention that she condoned and supervised hazing.

CHANDLER, Ariz. — Basha High School announced on March 31 that it had hired a new football coach, Bernie Busken, who had led Mesa Mountain View to an 82-9 record and three Class 5A state championships in seven seasons.  However, that was from 1995-2001. Busken had been in exile, coaching small college football, since spring 2002, when he resigned, as Maxpreps.com put it, “amid allegations of verbally abusing players, allowing hazing rituals and excessive athlete-on-athlete contact after being warned to desist by the school district.” At the time, Busken was defiant, blaming his departure on a parental and media witch hunt. Now, he’s more contrite, those this statement to Maxpreps.com sounds more like the classic sorry-you-were-offended apology:  “I have never done anything where I meant to hurt someone physically, mentally or anything else. I just tried to prepare them for their one shot to do well. All I can do now is apologize. If I was kidding around and I crossed a line; for those things I was wrong and I am sorry.”

COOPERSVILLE, Mich. — An Ottawa County, Mich., judge, considering a FOIA request by the Grand Rapids Press, on March 31 forced the Coopersville schools to reveal how much was paid to two victims of 2007 junior varsity baseball hazing that resulted in four team members being expelled from school and receiving juvenile sentences for gross indecency. The two victims had sued the district, claiming it looked the other way while coaches encouraged or ignored hazing. One student received $95,000, and another received $55,000. The school did not have to admit guilt. Not only that, the school was pretty pissed off the settlements were made public. The superintendent told the Press that, fuck you very much, you’re now peeling the hazing scab off itty-bitty Coopersville. “They have been through a lot. They don’t need any more trouble from their neighbors or the community,” O’Neill said. It appears he meant the perpetrators as well as the victims.

GARFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio — Trinity High School baseball coach Nick Fratalonie resigned April 1 after the school confirmed a hazing incident the previous month involving his team. The school would not confirm exactly what happened and to whom, except that it was “not sexual in nature” and that team members received “disciplinary consequences.” Fratalonie told the Cleveland Plain Dealer he didn’t resign because of hazing. It was for “personal and family reasons.”

And last, but certainly not least:

CARMEL, Ind. — One of the two freshman boys basketball players allegedly assaulted by three senior teammates on a bus ride back from a game in Terre Haute has hired a lawyer. Robert Turner said the bus incident was not the first time his client, no longer a student at Carmel High, had been victimized, and there were other incidents with other victims. “In a school context of so-called hazing, bullying, as this has been characterized, this was much more than that,” he said to WRTV-TV in Indianapolis on March 31. “It’s the worst case I’ve seen … ever.” A prosecutor is considering whether to file charges against the players for the bus incident, which had police investigating possible battery and criminal deviate conduct, a sex crime. Turner said the victim’s family hasn’t decided whether to sue. Uh-huh.

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Inspired by his Hoosier forebear Booth Tarkington, Robert Turner is getting ready to go all Penrod and Sam on Carmel High.

Written by rkcookjr

April 3, 2010 at 12:30 am

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.

Today's Carmel hazing update: how y'all are screwing up the police

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A few links for those of you who are following the cases of the four Carmel (Ind.) basketball seniors suspended for their roles in alleged assaults (sexual and otherwise) on teammates, three of them on a bus and one in a locker room. Here is what made news tonight, right before Carmel began postseason play in its own sectional. (In Indiana, everyone makes the playoffs, and every team starts playoffs in a sectional, as true today in four-class basketball as it was when Hickory faced Terhune.)

WRTV (ABC) — Carmel Clay Schools board president Jeff Carter says after the police investigation of the incidents is over, new policies will be put in place to encourage “more active oversight.” He doesn’t explain what that means, but it might be something like, “Coaches, get off your asses and see what’s going on in the back of the bus.”

WTHR (NBC) — Carter says school board members have received up to 30 calls from parents some nights. “I can tell you there are parents who are unhappy. They’re nervous about the safety of their children; I understand that completely. Some of them are downright angry… I would love to have the whole thing over today, but I also want it done right because we want to know exactly what happened. The Board will not tolerate this.” He also confirmed that security recording on the bus coming back from Terre Haute Jan. 22 have been erased, apparently when “school officials pulled it to review an altercation involving other students.” Said Carter, “The time between when we were notified, and when we could have pulled the disc out of there was so long, that there was already something else that had transpired and it had already been taken out.” The police investigation didn’t start until a month after the apparent time of the incident, which sent one freshman to the hospital.

City of Carmel news release — The city attorney explains why it can’t release more information that the two heavily redacted police reports it’s previously issued.  It’s long, but I’ll summarize: so the media doesn’t fuck things up for the police.

From city attorney Douglas Haney:

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Not the same Mr. Haney who runs the Hooterville phone company.

The City of Carmel Police Department is in the midst of a criminal investigation into serious allegations of abuse involving Carmel High School students. This investigation is being conducted by five veteran police investigators and involves the interview of more than 60 potential witnesses. The City is doing all it can to ensure that this investigation is carried out in a careful, thorough, and professional manner. The City is very concerned however, that its investigation could be unintentionally compromised, and future criminal convictions imperiled, by undue witness influence caused by rumors, blogs, and news reports.

Studies have shown that the memories of witnesses, and especially those of children, can be influenced and tainted by post-event information. This can occur in several ways. If witnesses observe an incident and then read or view additional information about the incident, they often integrate this latter information into their memory of the event. Once this integration occurs, it is often impossible to disengage the after-acquired information from the initial memory. In fact, studies show that up to 25% of witnesses “remember” post-event information as if they had actually observed it as part of the event. …

In addition to the risk of tainting witness memories, explicit post-incident information about the alleged assaults now under investigation can severely hamper our investigation. This can occur in two ways. First, in order to test the veracity of witness statements, a police investigator often withholds key incident information during a witness interview. If the witness can remember this withheld information on his or her own, this greatly increases the reliability of the testimony. Of course, this time-tested method of getting to the truth is thwarted if a witness already knows explicit incident facts through secondary sources. Second, although the City is taking great pains to respect the privacy of the victims of, and the witnesses to, this incident, the mere possibility of detailed media coverage of police interviews will– and already has — caused witnesses to reconsider stepping forward with information that is vital to this investigation and to a later successful prosecution.

Moreover, it is important to follow a process for determining guilt that does not pre-judge a suspect. Our judicial system is one of the traditions that make the United States different than most other countries. We do not try cases in the media. We do not convict on the basis of rumor, unsubstantiated statements and innuendo. We convict only upon proof of guilt as the result of a trial process that protects the rights of the accused. That is our history and our tradition. We should not disregard it, particularly in a case that involves our most important asset: our children.

The City understands the desire of the media to learn the facts surrounding these incidents as quickly as possible. However, it asks the media to also consider the need of the Carmel Police Department to conduct its investigation without witness influence, intimidation or interference. Rumors, sensationalism and misinformation only hamper this process, and provide a good defense attorney with arguments that credible witness testimony has been unduly influenced by post-incident information. As serious as these allegations are, it would be absolutely tragic if any perpetrators proved to have committed these crimes were to escape justice due to the inadmissibility or unavailability of vital eyewitness evidence.

On behalf of the media, I’ll take the apparently humongous risk that Carmel police are competent enough at their jobs to figure out how to get reliable information even with big, bad reporters sniffing around. It would be absolutely tragic if any prepetrators proved to have committed these crimes to escape justice due to the inability of police to not be afraid of reporters’ shadows.

ALSO: Fox 59 in Indianapolis quotes a local defense attorney regarding the Carmel statement about how the media could screw up witnesses.

“I have never seen a situation where media attention of a case causes a witness to change their story. I think the parents, the coaches, the administrators – those are the people who will influence what the story is,” said [Todd] Woodmansee.

Woodmansee says he believes the way Carmel officials are handling the case is perpetuating the story, and not the media.

“It’s fascinating to me that Carmel would go through such great lengths to try and prevent the media from getting to the bottom of what happened in this particular case,” said Woodmansee.

By the way, Fox 59 has a new reporter on the Carmel story: Julie Loncich, in for Kim King. I’m not sure whether this is permanent arrangement, though I wouldn’t blame the station for taking King off the story, despite her breaking news such as the first interview with one of parents of the hazing victims, after she had apologize on-air for making a tasteless comment to a cellphone-camera wielding Carmel student who was goading her.

Written by rkcookjr

March 2, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Carmel hazing case blows up on Senior Day

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Tonight (Feb. 26) was supposed to be a celebration for the Carmel (Ind.) High School basketball team, the seniors in particular, what with it being the final regular-season home game, and designated Senior Day. One problem: four out of the five seniors aren’t there because they are suspended as police investigate whether they committed any sexually related crimes related to hazing.

I’ve been updating the situation at my old high school on my original post, but events are moving so quickly, I figured I’d better start another one so the Feb. 25 post didn’t grow to 10,000 words. Only a few hours before Senior Day activities were set to tip off, the Carmel Police Department, with the local TV news stations breathing down its neck, released its second police report related to misdeeds that might involve athletes.

That report is investigating possible criminal deviate conduct, sexual battery with threat of force and criminal confinement related to a Jan. 8 attack in a Carmel locker room. What exactly is alleged isn’t known — the report is heavily redacted. But it has to be pretty serious to have police thinking about three felonies, the first two of which, individually, would put you in the state’s sex offender registry.

Police filed report on the alleged attack Feb. 22 while interviewing an alleged victim of three senior basketball players. They were suspended from school for a Jan. 22 “bullying” (what the school is calling it) incident on a 100-mile bus ride back from a game in Terre Haute. In among the few areas of the police report that weren’t Dick Cheneyed, the officer noted that he was informed by a victim of the bus incident (a victim who had to go to the hospital for his injuries) there were “ongoing issues that were occurring in the locker rooms at Carmel High School.” The Jan. 8 incident is the only one, as of yet, that police are investigating beyond the bus incident, which also is looking into whether felonies occurred, including sex crimes. The players, already acknowledged by the school as being suspended, are Robert Kitzinger, Brandon Hoge and Scott Laskowski, the latter the son of former Indiana University player and current television announcer John Laskowski.

In what may or may not related, a fourth senior basketball player, Oscar Faludon, was suspended from school for allegedly attacking another student in the boys’ locker room. Police have not said whether there is a link, or not, between that case and the newest police report.

It is extremely unfortunate for the one senior, Alex Payne, who has so far kept his head above the fray, that his special night has been ruined. (Me not living in Carmel anymore, I’m still trying to find out whether Senior Day was canceled or otherwise scaled back.) But it hasn’t been ruined just by teammates who apparently were on a serious power trip… heck, I don’t know WHAT their problem was.

Senior Day also has been ruined by all the adults involved, or better yet not involved.

The coaches who didn’t pay attention to what was going on behind them on the bus.

The coaches who let seniors onto the freshman bus against policy in the first place.

The head basketball coach, who in his own statements has made clear he’s much more concerned about how this affects his won-loss record than the children involved.

The coaches who failed to monitor what was happening in their own locker rooms.

The administrators who tried to bury their heads in the sand about this and had an investigation forced upon them. Listen to the principal in the clip below, and prepare to be appalled:

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The police who, allegedly in the name of children’s privacy, perhaps illegally refused to release documents until the Indiana’s state public access watchdog was sicced on them.

An adult culture that made the school bus victim(s) so fearful, the kids themselves were afraid to step up and say anything — this conduct came to light only because a parent overheard it while at the school, and because the hospital had to inform the Department of Child Services about the circumstances and nature of the school bus victim’s injuries.

One bit of kudos I have to give is to much-maligned local television news. Indianapolis’ four major TV news operations have been all over this case, and it’s notable that the reports police have released are emailed straight to them — and not to any print media. Ouch. In fact, local TV news has broken every bit of significant information on the story.

POSTGAME FOLLOW-UP: Carmel beat Brebeuf Jesuit Prep, for those keeping score. However, Indiana blogger Kent Sterling reports that lone senior standing Alex Payne got a nice round of applause when he was introduced with the starting lineup — and that Brebeuf’s rooting section didn’t, as the kids say, go there on Carmel’s problems. The only incident, such as it were, was when the crowd spotted one television reporter who has been particularly aggressive on the hazing stories:

The only borderline moment was when Fox-59’s Kim King walked into the gym.  [Your Kid’s Not Going Pro editor’s note: this being Indiana, a 4,000-seat facility is called a “gym.”] I didn’t see her until she was in front of the scorer’s table.  You have to love this woman, unless you’re a Carmel student as you’ll read in a minute.  She is aggressively pursuing a story that is not going to lead to a pretty end for the high school in whose gym she is walking, but she doesn’t slip in the back door.  Nope, Kim walks right down to the floor during halftime and crosses in front of the scorer’s table and then the Carmel bench.  She stands in the corner with a person I’m guessing is her producer, and the crowd became a little quiet and started pointing.  Then there was a bit of huddling, followed by the chant “Go home, Kim!  Go home, Kim!”  Some of the parents laughed, which I thought was absurd because it was neither clever nor funny.  If Carmel is a school filled with as many smart kids as they claim, they should have come up with something witty.

Why athletes haze: because they can

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In the case of alleged criminal hazing (including sexually related crimes) perpetrated by members of the Carmel (Ind.) High School basketball team, you might wonder — why didn’t anybody start doing anything about it until a month after it happened on a bus home from a ballgame Jan. 22? And why didn’t the alleged victims themselves speak up, leaving it to a parent who happened to overhear something in the hall to start the investigative ball rolling?

The answer, like in any case of a child who is physically and sexually abused, is fear: fear that no one will believe them, or that if anybody does, in the end those who abused won’t end up paying the ol’ piper for what they’ve done.

For example, concurrent to the Carmel case under way, in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Feb. 24 Kent County prosecutor William Forsyth announced he would not file any criminal charges related to among the members of the West Catholic High School boys’ cross country team for activity awful enough for the school to disband the varsity. For another, the parents of a Franklinville, N.Y., wrestler suspended in a hazing incident — like the one in Carmel, taking place on a school bus on Jan. 22 — dismissing it as “boys will be boys.”

First, Grand Rapids. In a news release, Forsyth outlined the various troublesome activity by team members: poking teammates (clothed) in the “butt crack,” poking teammates in the area between the scrotum and the buttocks (“gobbling”), slapping teammates on the bare behind hard enough to leave a mark (“five starring’), teammates holding teammates down so they could be “gobbled” and “humped” by the others (the parts in quotes are real terms the prosecutor used in his release). Forsyth also said a team member, no pun intended, whizzed on another player’s leg (no word on whether he also told him it was raining). Forsyth said a dozen players were involved as perpetrators.

The conduct was severe enough that West Catholic High canned the cross country coach and reduced the team from varsity to club status so it could learn how to run together and keep their hands to themselves at the same time.

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It was so bad that Forsyth, who said he has seen his share of locker room “horseplay,” declared to the Grand Rapids Press that “someone needed to step in here.”

That someone, however, is not Forsyth. From his release:

After reviewing this matter, I have concluded, for a variety of reasons, that no criminal charges will be filed. At the outset, it is important to note that all of the students involved in these incidents were juveniles [under the age of 17] and that the administration of West Catholic High School has already taken action to address the allegations outlined in this complaint.

In regard to the so-called “gobbling” and “five starring” incidents, it appears that with varying degrees of culpability approximately twelve of the runners engaged in this type of activity. While some may have felt uncomfortable and others may have been taken advantage of, it is nonetheless apparent that, regardless of their motivation for having done so, nearly a dozen athletes participated. Determining who was involved and to what extent, however, has been hindered by the fact that at least two of the team members have refused to be interviewed and several others have been something less than forthcoming about what happened. While such unwanted “touching” is technically an assault and battery, this type of behavior [absent heretofore undisclosed information] does not merit criminal prosecution; particularly when, depending upon the incident, each of the participants could potentially be both a victim and a defendant. …

While [the activity was] inappropriate, offensive and admittedly criminal in nature, given the age of the offenders, their lack of criminal record and the isolated nature of the behavior [i.e. in the context of their participation on the cross country team], any punishment is best left to the administration of West Catholic High School.

On one level, it’s disgusting that Forsyth didn’t throw his prosecutorial weight around for this case. The line about the lack of criminal record seems a bit of a cop-out — hey, every offender has to start somewhere. The line about “the context of their participation on the cross country team” is especially galling. So when I ran cross country in high school, if I had “gobbled” someone or pissed on their leg, that would have been OK. However, I would suspect if I did the same outside my local Jewel-Osco to a retiree trying to grab a cart, in that context, I would have my ass thrown in jail.

However, Forsyth couldn’t do too much if the cross country team was dummying up on him, or if victims and perpetrators are in the same fetid pool. “It is a situation a prosecutor doesn’t even want to go near,” Forsyth told the Grand Rapids Press. ” The school can handle something like this better.”

It’s disappointing that no criminal charges are coming from criminal activity among the West Catholic boys’ cross country team, and no doubt it will have some kids thinking twice about speaking up if similar activity happens again. Forsyth has given the green light to “gobbling” and “five starring” to any team in Kent County, Mich.

At least prosecutors saw fit in Franklinville, N.Y., to charge a 19-year-old with second-degree harassment, and a 16-year-old (as a juvenile) with forcible touching and harassment for an incident in which a wrestling teammate was bound with a belt. And Franklinville Central High also suspended the head wrestling coach and two assistants.

But the attitude of parents of another wrestler suspended by the school (but not charged criminally) gives you an idea of the community resistance anyone speaking out about hazing will receive. Brian and Kelly Childs told the Olean Times-Herald they accept their son’s punishment. But…

“It wasn’t an act of viciousness. It was boys being boys. They were goofing off,” Kelly Childs said. “The boys weren’t doing anything to be mean.”

Oh, then let’s forget the whole thing, eh?

One would think that communities priding themselves on protecting their children would react swiftly and justly to any hazing, especially when it becomes criminal. But one would be wrong. And even when communities and schools try to do the right thing, there are always people wondering why they aren’t laughing along.

Hopefully, the hazing victims will have this explained to them in their future therapy.


Written by rkcookjr

February 25, 2010 at 6:02 pm