Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery held a press conference Wednesday morning on the current investigation into the hazing reported on the football team at Hamilton High School in Chandler early last year.
Montgomery said there is not enough evidence to charge the principal, athletic director or head football coach with any crime related to not reporting the alleged abuse although the Chandler Police Department recommended charges against the officials be filed.
Montgomery said this comes after individuals who said they had evidence became uncooperative with prosecutors and police.
“As you can imagine we’re pretty excited and relieved. I thought this would be the outcome the whole time. I’m just glad it’s over and we can kind of flip that page and move on. I have submitted my resignation to the district for the end of this semester,” said Steve Belles, who was the head coach at the time of the alleged incidents.
Belles was replaced and reassigned in May after the allegations of sexual assault surfaced.
The only people charged so far in this investigation have been the teen suspects accused of the abuse.
The three teens were formally charged in the hazing case that victims say went as far as being sexual abuse.
[ORIGINAL STORY: 3 teens formally charged in Hamilton High School hazing incident]
Two of the teens have since had their cases resolved and the outcome of those cases has been sealed.
The third teen, Nathaniel Thomas, 17, was charged as an adult for sex assault, kidnapping and aggravated assault.
Police and prosecutors say Thomas and others restrained younger members of the football team and sexually assaulted them. The alleged incidents happened in the Hamilton High School locker room.
Thomas pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Six students have come forward thus far but prosecutors believe there may be more.
All of the teens involved are either current or former football players.
“It seems to me the culture out there is to protect its football program,” said attorney John Torgenson, who is representing one of the alleged victims in the civil case. “We’re not going to get accountability on the criminal side, so we’re going to go get it civilly.”
The Chandler Police Department said late last year that they would recommend charges against the athletic director, principal and head coach at Hamilton saying they knew about the abuse but didn't report it.
Officers said they found documents about the allegations that should have been reported to police in a search of the school.
An email with a screenshot of a conversation reportedly between two players about how coaches knew what was going on but didn't do anything about it was one of the items found in the principal's office during the search.
Montgomery said in the press conference that the lack of charges does not mean that anyone with information can't come forward.
"We're not walking away from this," Montgomery said.
The Chandler Police Department will continue to take information as it comes in and the county attorney's office will continue to review the case to determine when they can move forward with criminal charges.
The department released the following statement:
We are committed to diligently investigating any additional leads in this case as they become available. We continue to encourage potential victims, witnesses, and their parents to come forward with any additional information pertaining to the Hamilton High School case.
Chandler Unified School District superintendent Camille Casteel sent the following letter to staff and parents:
Today, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery announced that his office had completed its review of the hazing allegations at Hamilton High School and will not be filing criminal charges against any District personnel. In an effort to avoid distraction to HHS while the District awaited the outcome of the County’s investigation, HHS Principal Ken James, Assistant Principal Shawn Rustad and Former Head Coach Steve Belles were assigned to a different work site. Steve Belles subsequently notified the District that he would not be returning. Since that time, the Hamilton High School administrative team, faculty and staff have worked diligently to ensure that students continue to receive a quality educational experience. With the County Attorney’s announcement, the District and HHS administrators will focus their time and attention to move the already outstanding Hamilton High School community forward.
The District Administration has been diligently determining what remedial measures could be made to promote student safety at Hamilton High School and throughout the District. Listed below are actions already undertaken: • The District has redesigned and remodeled the Hamilton High School locker rooms to improve the staff’s supervision capabilities.
• The District is requiring an increased level of staff supervision to increase student-athletes’ awareness of staff presence and prevent improper student conduct at all sites.
• The District revised the Anti-Hazing training video that coaches, athletic staff, students and parents are required to view. The video is now more student-focused and includes specific examples designed to increase student understanding.
• The District continues to require all coaches, athletic directors and athletic support staff to complete training on “Bullying, Hazing and Inappropriate Behavior” developed by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
• The District formally adopted a Character Education curriculum for junior high and high school coaches and athletes. The curriculum is a requirement for all student athletes and coaches.
• The District has made an online survey available for students and parents to complete at the end of each athletic season, which will provide a means for students and parents to alert the District to concerns that otherwise may not have been reported.
• The District has arranged for the County Attorney’s office to provide training on reporting requirements to administrators, faculty and coaches. The training materials will be utilized in the required staff trainings that will be provided annually to District employees.
Please know that we recognize that students, parents, staff and the community at large have been affected by the events that have occurred. You should be proud to know that the HHS staff members continue to excel at their profession and the students continue to achieve at the top of every category when compared to other high schools in the State and nation. And with your support, HHS will remain a quality environment where student safety prevails and academic achievement thrives.
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