Milton High School football players held initiations that included sexually assaulting younger players with broom sticks or pool cues, according to court records made public Tuesday 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 they have made no direct link between the death and the hazing.
Another victim said he refused to report his assault because Principal Anne Blake had stated if something happened, the school would “shut down” the football season, court records show. A court affidavit also notes the victim said he felt threatened that if he reported something and football were canceled, the whole school would “hate” him.
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.
William Jenkins, 18, Colby Darling, 18, Brian Lasell, 19, Brandon Beliveau, 20, and Ryan Carlson, 20, all of Milton, had not-guilty pleas entered on their behalf in Vermont Superior Court in Burlington. All were allowed to remain free on conditions pending trial.
According to court papers, Milton’s football team “already had a bad reputation due to an incident involving a former player who tried to commit suicide. Victim #1 said the player’s motivation to try to commit suicide were based on how he was treated by other members of the football team.”
Vermont State Police Detective Matthew Sweitzer wrote in an affidavit that one former player said the Milton rituals or hazing that took place differed from year to year.
“It is fair to say that it was a culture that existed within the Milton football team,” Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan said during a news conference after the morning arraignments. “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
Three of the five suspects appeared in court.
Beliveau, Darling and Lasell appeared for brief arraignments.
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.
The suspects and their lawyers left the courthouse without commenting to reporters.
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 earlier.
Jenkins, who was described by one victim as a “bully,” attempted to thwart the investigation, according to court papers.
A Milton teacher said Jenkins reported that 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 noted.
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 being held down by about eight players.
Donovan said hazing is not a crime under Vermont law. He said the hazing law, which received a major overhaul in the Legislature following a scandal involving the 1999-2000 University of Vermont hockey team, is considered a civil violation.
Donovan said Tuesday he could have filed felony charges but instead opted for the misdemeanor due to the defendants’ youth and because of the lapse of time from when the victims came forward and when the incidents reportedly occurred, in 2011 and 2012.
The prosecutor said most importantly he wants to work with the Milton School District and the community to try to ensure the conduct is not repeated.
The statute of limitations for assault is three years, and the deadline for filing charges against Jenkins, Beliveau and Carlson 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 player that took his life. The prosecutor said he also met with the family of another victim on Monday.
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, police said.
The 2011 incident happened during a team dinner at the Block House, a building located next to the football stadium field at the high school, according to court papers.
Beliveau told investigators that “‘hazing’ was always a part of varsity sports when he was in high school,” Detective Lawton wrote.
Another former player, when asked about the broomsticks, said, “Most of the time it was joking around, 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 alleged hazing until this spring, and the district is taking the incident seriously.
Barone, who was accompanied to court by acting High School Principal Scott Thompson, purchased three dozen pages of court records from the five cases to bring back to the school-district offices.
Included in the court records was information that Milton teacher/coach Jim O’Grady reported to school officials in May 2013 that there were problems. 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 Anne Blake, the school principal, and then-Athletic Director Joe Solomon.
Barone, who flanked Donovan during the 15-minute news conference, said the O’Grady report that made it to his office fell short of the level of allegations the prosecutor described.
“There was some misbehavior happening in the Block House, in our locker room, because of a lack of supervision,” Barone said.
Barone said he ordered increased supervision.
“Most of the time — not most of the time, all the time, our philosophy as a district is to, when in doubt, report. We would rather over-report than under-report,” Barone said.
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. He has been replaced by teacher/coach Drew Gordon. Athletic Director Joe Solomon announced his retirement, and the town hired Mike Jabour this week. Anne Blake, the principal, is on a one-year medical leave of absence with Thompson filing in.
Barone said he plans to meet with all Milton fall sports teams to discuss proper conduct.
T.J. Donovan, the prosecutor, said his office also looked into the “the allegation on whether the school administrators failed to make a timely report as mandated by law.”
Donovan and Barone both said Vermont law is vague as to what constitutes “reasonable cause” to notify officials.
Donovan said the Legislature needs to make the law clearer. He said it is unclear if officials need to report rumors or actually must conduct some investigation on their own.
“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. He said there was some discussion about cutting the football season when he first learned about the allegations, but he opted to wait until more information became available.
Donovan said his office will work with Milton to ensure the conduct is not repeated.
He said it was important “to make sure no victim is left in silence in these cases, and we continue to work with the community to prevent these types of assaults and to make sure that our kids are safe and they thrive in our school.”
Donovan said the criminal charges were important for the victims.
“We thought it was important to bring in order to give voice, not only to the victims in this case, but to stand in solidarity with the victims, who frankly have suffered in silence these last couple of years,” Donovan said.