Police say officials at Arizona school didn’t report abuse
PHOENIX (AP) Police have recommended charges against the principal, athletic director and head coach at a prominent Arizona high school, saying they knew about allegations of abuse involving the football team but failed to alert authorities.
Recently released records say at least four players were abused by older teammates in locker rooms during the past year at Hamilton High School in Chandler. Authorities say some of the attacks amounted to criminal offenses, including sexual assault.
In one instance, the records say, a player had his pants and underwear forced down and was spanked. Some of the encounters were recorded and posted on social media.
Three players have been charged with crimes, including one accused of child molestation.
Officers who searched the school this summer said they found documents and discovered information about the misconduct allegations that should have been turned over to authorities. Among the items seized from the principal’s office was an email with a screen shot of an exchange reportedly between two players about how coaches knew what was going on but didn’t do anything about it.
Documents also were seized from the athletic director and another school employee, though it’s unclear whether they were required to report that information.
The message mentions that coaches held a meeting five months earlier in which they discussed the attacks.
”Had these offenses been properly reported it is possible that many of the sexual assaults would not have occurred,” lead investigator Amanda Janssen wrote in a report.
Investigators say then-Athletic Director Shawn Rustad received an anonymous voicemail in January saying younger football players were being harassed. A police report said the voicemail has been deleted.
At the direction of then-Principal Ken James, Rustad interviewed four players, including one who says his clothes were removed while he was held down, the records state. Investigators say Rustad relayed the information to then-Coach Steve Belles and instructed him to address this situation with the team.
Rustad didn’t notify the parents of the four players who had been interviewed, according to the police records.
Amanda Jacinto, a spokeswoman for the county prosecutor’s office in metro Phoenix, said the agency is reviewing the recommendation by investigators to charge James, Rustad and Belles.
”A charging decision has not been made in this case, but we are still encouraging anyone with information to come forward to investigators,” Jacinto said.
The police records say Belles, who led the team to five state championships since becoming head coach in 2006, denied having been contacted by administrators about a phone call or hazing. He also told investigators that he knew nothing about hazing or assaults until he was told by an unknown source that a mother had contacted a police officer who monitored the school.
James, Rustad and Belles have been reassigned to other jobs within the school district.
”Steve Belles, if he had known about something, would have done something,” said Jack Wilenchik, one of his attorneys. ”And the fact is (that) he didn’t know anything.”
Rustad and James didn’t respond to emails sent Friday seeking comment.
Terry Locke, spokesman for the Chandler Unified School District, said in an email that district officials will review the hundreds of pages of police records.
The name of one of the three players charged has been publicly released, but The Associated Press is withholding it because he is a juvenile.
This story has been corrected to show that the information withheld from police was uncovered in the principal’s office. It’s unclear whether records seized from other school employees contained information that should haven’t been turned over to authorities.