Families of three students allegedly sexually assaulted by Hamilton High School football players are seeking a total of $20 million in damages, alleging coaches took steps to cover up the hazing.
The notices of claim against the Chandler Unified School District contend the district was negligent in supervising and hiring the school’s football coaches, who “did nothing to prevent these attacks.”
Two families are asking to settle their claims against the district for $7 million each. The other family is seeking $6 million. The claims were submitted May 24.
Court documents allege that four victims younger than 15 were assaulted between September 2015 to January 2017. Three, football players face charges, one as an adult.
Chandler police have recommended to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office that criminal charges be brought against Hamilton Principal Ken James and former Hamilton football head coach Steve Belles. In a statement submitted to the county attorney on Friday, police investigators allege James and Belles failed to report violent hazing incidents involving team members to law enforcement.
No charging decisions have been announced by the county attorney.
James and Belles are named in the notices of claim, along with the school’s athletic director and multiple coaches who have not been publicly named by authorities. The notices allege James and Belles had knowledge of assaults and then camouflaged the incidents when concerns were raised.
At one point, a coach walked in on an assault and didn’t take steps to alert law enforcement, the claims said. Victims approached coaches for help to no avail, the claims said. Instead, coaches met with players to determine steps to cover up incidents, according to the documents, obtained by The Arizona Republic on Wednesday.
The claims were filed on behalf of the families by attorney Daniel Raynak.
The school district had no immediate comment.
One victim was attacked in September 2015 when he was promoted from the freshmen football team to varsity, according to his family’s claim. He was assaulted and sexually abused by a number of upperclassmen in the locker room, the document said.
The claim went on to allege the football team had a culture of hazing, saying players new to the varsity team were referred to as “fresh meat” who had to be hazed.
The team didn’t determine initiation “successful” unless there was a form of penetration by a foreign object, often a finger, the claim said. The claim also alleged that attackers would manipulate victims’ genitals, push their own genitals into the faces of the victims and slap their buttocks, the claim alleged.
Victims also were beaten and physically restrained, the claim said. Several incidents were recorded and posted on social media, according to the claim.
“The coaching staff did nothing to prevent these attacks,” the claim said.
The victim’s guardian wasn’t aware of the assaults or the hazing culture until contacted by detectives in February, the claim said.
According to the three claims, coaches knew or should have known as early as 2015 what was transpiring in the locker room.
Belles was aware in early 2015 that upperclassmen were engaging in such activities, yet no investigation was conducted, the claims stated. Instead, coaches gathered with players in meetings to “to try and cover up and/or minimize the fall out from these hazing incidents,” the claims said.
Coaches also placed blame on “less successful players” for the hazing, protecting “more accomplished players,” the documents said.
The claims mentioned an anonymous voicemail left for James in January that prompted the principal to authorize other school staff to interview team members rather than notify police or parents.
James and Belles could face charges of non-compliance with a “duty to report” law and child abuse, Chandler police Sgt. Daniel Mejia said.
The Chandler Unified School District’s guideline for reporting states that when a district employee has reasonable belief that a child may be a victim of child abuse, the employee must “immediately, within reason,” contact appropriate child-welfare or law-enforcement agencies.
Three teenagers already face charges in the case.
One player, Nathaniel William Thomas, 17, was charged as an adult with sexual assault and multiple counts of molestation, kidnapping and aggravated assault involving alleged attacks on three victims.
Two 16-year-old players face charges as juveniles of kidnapping, aggravated assault and assault.
Republic reporter Robert Gundran contributed to this article.
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