How a single email launched Hamilton football hazing investigation that led to assault charges – AZCentral.com

How a single email launched Hamilton football hazing investigation that led to assault charges – AZCentral.com
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The investigation of football hazing allegations that rocked Hamilton High School in Chandler and led to arrests and criminal charges began with a single email from someone who had heard the reports of abuse “over and over.”

The tipster expressed concern about possible hazing in the varsity football program in a graphic email sent to the school’s police officer and an official at Chandler Unified School District.

The email was sent Feb. 10. By the following week, other emails show, an investigation was underway. Chandler police arrested six players on the school’s powerhouse football team on March 29.

Police charged three of those players and alleged they committed various crimes, including sexual assault, against fellow players.

The email that spurred the school and police to investigate was among hundreds of pages of documents released by the school district Monday in response to numerous public-records requests by The Arizona Republic and other media.

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The district redacted from the documents the names and addresses of parents and alleged victims. It also redacted the name of the original email writer. The district said the writer was “not an educator at the school.”

The writer acknowledged hearing about the hazing only secondhand, but also indicated an understanding of the legal implications of the rumor.

Its subject line read: “Mandatory reporting of sexual harassment.”


The email: ‘Hearing it over and over’

The message was sent on a Friday afternoon to the Chandler Police Department address for Kevin Quinn, a school resource officer at Hamilton High, and copied to Craig Gilbert, the district’s assistant superintendent of secondary education.


HAMILTON HIGH FOOTBALL CHARGES

“It may be nothing, but I keep hearing it over and over,” the email reads.

The message includes several places where the district redacted the name of a possible victim.

“A football player whom I believe is on varsity at Hamilton …  told several other players he was sexually assaulted by other varsity football players in the locker room as initiation (hazing) into the program. I’ve heard this from a handful of other players at the lower level. (Redacted) was specific to the players he was telling in what was done to him.”

The football player in question “was allegedly leaving the shower when other varsity players took his towel from him, bent him over a bench,” and assaulted him using their fingers, the writer said, and also grabbed his genitals. The tipster wrote that the student had said such acts are considered “a right of passage” on the football team and “occurs regularly.”

“I’ve heard this from a handful of other players at the local level,” the writer said, adding later, “Whether this is a myth or not it needs to be addressed.”

The writer described the message as being “for documentation and tracking purposes,” and concluded by asking Quinn and Gilbert to “let me know the outcome.”

Besides the school resource officer, the email was not addressed to any Hamilton administrators, or anyone in the football program.


The reaction: ‘First time I ever heard of this’ 

Gilbert, the district administrator, forwarded the message the next day, Saturday, to Hamilton High School Principal Ken James.

“Have you already talk to Kevin about this? Had not seen this until now after talking to (redacted),” Gilbert wrote James.

“First time I ever heard of this,” James replied three minutes later. “I will find out on Monday.”

Terry Locke, spokesman for the Chandler school district, confirmed to The Republic on Monday that the Feb. 10 email was the first time the hazing allegations were brought to school officials’ attention. He said the tipster was “not an educator at the school.”

The message aligns with what police and the Chandler school district have previously said about their investigation: that they were alerted by a third party in February about possible hazing.

After the investigation, police said the allegations go back to September 2015.

One player, 17-year-old Nathaniel William Thomas, was charged as an adult with sex assault and multiple counts of molestation, kidnapping and aggravated assault. Two 16-year-old football players were to be prosecuted in juvenile court.

After the arrests, school officials reassigned the program’s head coach, Steve Belles, indefinitely.


Alleged victim’s family: ‘I am furious’

Six days after the tipster’s email, a person who appeared to be the parent or guardian of one of the victims emailed an English teacher at Hamilton High.

The writer, whose email address was redacted, and the teacher had been discussing makeup assignments for the student, who had missed class.

But the writer then described being “furious” after learning about the alleged hazing and also indicated at least one school official knew of some problem with the student earlier.

“He did want you to know but I wasn’t sure I could email you while under investigation,” the parent wrote on Feb. 16. “(Redacted) has been a victim of extreme hazing done by the varsity football players.”

“An (anonymous) tip (was) reported after seeing (redacted) in the locker room alone crying. The athletic director talked to him about it but no one contacted me. (Redacted) was afraid to tell me because he knew what my reaction would be. I am furious.”

The teacher told the parent she was sorry. She offered assistance and asked the parent if they’d been contacted by the school principal.

“I did hear the other day that this was happening — but I had no idea (redacted) was the victim,” the teacher wrote. “I am so sorry. That is horrifying to hear … No kid should have to go through that.”


The fallout: Disappointment, allegations

Hamilton High School runs one of Arizona’s most successful varsity football programs. The Huskies have won seven state championships since 2003. Annually, the program sees multiple graduates land college football scholarships.

But parents’ disappointment in the football program surfaced almost immediately following the March 29 arrests.

The high school sent out an email to parents that afternoon notifying them of the hazing allegations. A parent whose email address was redacted wrote to James in that same email chain that parents felt the program’s undoing was spurred by its “desire to win games.”

“I have been trying to keep my mouth shut about the football program for over a year,” said the parent, who said they were writing on behalf of several other parents at the school. “Unfortunately, it has taken something like this to happen for people to pay attention — and I truly hope you are paying attention.”

The parent accused the school of not properly disciplining its student-athletes for “consistent bad behaviors on and off the field.”

“Boys were breaking into houses, doing drugs, posting raunchy videos and what happens? They end up playing. It never failed.”

Minutes later, James wrote the parent back. He thanked them for the email and said he’d been speaking with football coaches and Shawn Rustad, the school’s athletic director, about making changes to the program, though did not specify.

“We have expressed concerns and have said things have to change,” James wrote. “I know they are putting some things in place. I am hoping you will notice a difference.”

Republic reporter Garrett Mitchell contributed to this story. Reach the reporter at ricardo.cano@gannett.com

READ MORE: 

What we know about the Hamilton High football player arrests

Hamilton High coach reassigned after arrests

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