BURLINGTON, Vt. — As part of initiations into a high school football team, players sexually assaulted younger teens with broom sticks or pool cues, according to court records made public when five former athletes were charged with related crimes.
One teenage victim died in a suicide in 2012, one year after an assault, but officials said Tuesday they have made no direct link between the death and the hazing.
Another victim said he refused to report his assault because the principal at Milton High School in the town of Milton north of Burlington had said if something happened, the school would shut down the football season. A court affidavit notes the victim said he thought the whole school, which has about 550 students, would hate him if he reported the assaults and football games were canceled.
The information was released as five former Milton High School football players denied misdemeanor charges of simple assault following an investigation into allegations of hazing during the 2011 and 2012 football seasons.
Brandon Beliveau, 20; Ryan Carlson, 20; Colby Darling, 18; William Jenkins, 18; and Brian Lasell, 19, all of Milton, had not-guilty pleas entered on their behalf in Vermont Superior Court here. All were allowed to remain free on conditions pending trial.
The reputation of Milton's football team already was poor because a player tried to commit suicide, according to court papers. Victim 1 said the player's motivation to attempt suicide was based on his treatment from other members of the football team.
One former player said the Milton rituals differed from year to year, Detective Matthew Sweitzer of Vermont State Police wrote in an affidavit.
"It is fair to say that it was a culture that existed within the Milton football team," said T.J. Donovan, Chittenden County state's attorney. "We have to make sure that this doesn't happen to any other kid in any other school on any other team in the state of Vermont."
The criminal case
Beliveau, Darling and Lasell appeared for brief arraignments Tuesday.
Jenkins had left for college in Chico, Calif., his lawyer said, but his parents were in the courtroom. Carlson's lawyer said the former athlete was in Arizona but due back in a few weeks.
None of the suspects nor their lawyers would comment. Simple assault carries a possible jail term of up to one year and a fine of up to $1,000.
The investigation began after the Vermont Department for Children and Families received a report April 1 about a football player "having been 'raped' ... as initiation to the football team," records show.
The Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations, a countywide multi-agency group that primarily focuses on sex-crime cases, was later brought in. The investigation involved more than 90 interviews, including with varsity and junior-varsity football players from recent years, Detective Sgt. Mike Warren said.
Jenkins, whom one victim described as as a bully, attempted to thwart the investigation, according to court papers.
A Milton teacher reported that Jenkins said he had made "some phone calls to all his buddies that were on the team with him, and he said, 'Don't talk to any police,' " a court affidavit showed.
At least three other Milton players who were not charged were identified as holding teammates down during the hazing, court records state. One victim reported that about eight players held him down.
Hazing is not a crime under Vermont law, Donovan said. Violating the hazing law, which received a major overhaul in the state Legislature following a scandal involving the 1999-2000 University of Vermont hockey team, is considered a civil offense.
Donovan said Tuesday he could have filed felony charges but instead opted for misdemeanor because of the defendants' youth and because the crimes occurred two to almost three years before the victims came forward. Most important, the prosecutor said he wants to work to ensure the conduct is not repeated.
The statute of limitations for assault is three years, and the deadline for filing charges against Beliveau, Carlson and Jenkins would have expired Sept. 1, Donovan said. Colby and Lasell were charged with fall 2012 incidents.
After court, Donovan met with family members of the former football player who committed suicide and met with the family of another victim Monday, he said.
At least one assault with a pool cue happened at Lasell's home during a football team dinner in fall 2012, Sweitzer's affidavit stated. In that case, the young player's shorts were torn in the attack.
A 2011 incident happened during a team dinner at the Block House, a building next to high school football stadium field, according to court papers.
Beliveau said hazing was always a part of varsity sports when he was in high school, Essex police Detective Morgan Lawton, one of the lead investigators, wrote in his report.
"Most of the time it was joking around," said another player in when asked about broomsticks. "But it definitely got taken way too far sometimes," Lawton wrote.
Milton School Superintendent John Barone, who attended the arraignment, said the district had no information about the hazing allegations until this past spring.
Barone, accompanied to court by acting High School Principal Scott Thompson, purchased three dozen pages of records from the five cases to bring back to the school district offices.
Included in the court records: Information that one Milton teacher and coach, Jim O'Grady, had reported problems to school officials in May 2013. O'Grady's son Derryk, who did not play football his senior year, had told his father there had been "hazing stuff."
Jim O'Grady reported the information the next day to Principal Anne Blake and then-Athletic Director Joe Solomon.
At least three school officials will not be around this coming academic year for reasons unrelated to the investigation. Veteran football Coach Chris Hughes had stepped down during the winter and is moving out of state. Solomon announced his retirement, and Blake is on a one-year medical leave of absence with Thompson filing in.
Prosecutor Donovan said his office also looked into the timeliness of the notification to law enforcement. But both Donovan and Barone said Vermont law is vague on what constitutes reasonable cause to notify officials, especially because of the vagueness of the original information.
The Legislature needs to make the law clearer because it is unclear if officials need to report rumors or must conduct some investigation on their own, Donovan said.
"We really have to restore the damage that was done up in Milton High School," the veteran prosecutor said.
Barone said he would have no trouble canceling a sports season if he has evidence of hazing. Officials thought about doing so when they first heard about the allegations, but he said he opted to wait until more information became available.