Seven members of the Sayreville (N.J.) football team are facing charges for their roles in a hazing scandal that caused school officials to cancel the remainder of the season earlier this week.
Six of the players were detained Friday night on charges that included aggravated sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual contact, conspiracy to commit aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal restraint, and hazing, Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey and Sayreville Police Chief John Zerowski said in a news release. A seventh player was being sought Friday night.
The players ranged in age from 15 to 17 and were detained awaiting a Family Court hearing to determine whether they will be held in a juvenile detention center or released in the custody of their parents or guardians. A date had not been set for those hearings at the time of the news release.
In the release, prosecutors said there were four incidents between Sept. 19 and Sept. 29 in which at least one of the suspects held the victims “against their will, while another suspect improperly touched them in a sexual manner.” A victim also was kicked in the head, the prosecutor said.
Following the arrest, Sayreville Superintendent Dr. Richard Labbe released a statement saying the school has begun an investigation into all athletic and extracurricular programs.
“In the ensuing days, weeks, and months, we will come together as a school district and greater community to harness the strength required to support the young men who may have been victimized and then to begin the healing process for our beloved community,” Labbe said in the statement.
The arrests came on the night that Sayreville was scheduled to play Monroe on its home field for homecoming. Instead, the football-loving community continues to be rocked by more revelations.
The names of the players were not being released because all are under the age of 18. One of the key next steps will be whether prosecutors seek to have any of the teens charged as an adult, which would mean stiffer potential sentences. A juvenile convicted of first-degree sexual assault would face up to five years in prison.
Three of the teens were charged with aggravated sexual assault and other charges, including sexual contact, conspiracy, restraint and hazing for engaging in an act of sexual penetration on one of the juvenile victims, the prosecutor said.
The four other teens were charged with aggravated sexual assault, conspiracy, sexual contact, hazing and riot by participating in the attack of the remaining victims.
No coaches or school officials were charged.
Labbe announced during a news conference last Friday that the prosecutor’s office and borough police were investigating allegations of a “significant and serious nature” within the football program. The school had canceled the previous night’s game against New Brunswick and Labbe said the decision was predicated upon information obtained from law enforcement.
On Monday, Labbe announced he was canceling the season.
“We can set the standard right now for all kids for all school districts in Middlesex County, in the state and in the nation that we are not going to stand around and allow kids to do this to one another,” Labbe said. “We are going to start holding our students responsible for doing the right thing and reporting these kinds of behaviors. I believe with every fiber of my body that the only way we are going to stop bullying is if we get the kids to go to an adult or to the authorities.”
That decision was met with an outcry from parents and community members, leading to a contentious Board of Education meeting Tuesday night in which the board unanimously affirmed the decision to cancel the season.
In the ensuing days, details about the nature of the alleged actions by upperclassmen on underclassmen began to emerge with the parent of a freshman player told NJ Advance Media of a hazing ritual that would take place almost daily.
The parent said upperclassmen would pin down a freshman player and then lift him up so a finger could be shoved into his rectum. Often the same finger would then be put in the player’s mouth.
“The facts as reported currently are extraordinarily disturbing and, as the father of a number of teenage athletes, the idea that that kind of conduct could be permitted — if it’s true … in a high school athletics program, or anywhere else in our state for that matter, is absolutely unacceptable,” he said.
Police arrived at the home of Sayreville’s highest-profile athlete, three-sport star Myles Hartfield on Friday night, according to NJ Advance Media. Because the names were not released, it is unclear whether he was among those charged.
Hartfield had committed to attend Penn State on a football scholarship. Penn State coach James Franklin acknowledged earlier in the week that he was monitoring the situation closely.
Sayreville, which has won three NJSIAA sectional titles over the past four years, is widely regarded as one of the state’s top public school football programs. The Bombers string of 20 consecutive playoff appearances ended with the season being canceled.
A vigil for the victims has been scheduled for 6 p.m. Sunday at John F. Kennedy Park, directly across the street from Sayreville High School.