Five former Hamilton High School football players and their parents filed a civil lawsuit against school officials, former teammates and their parents, claiming some in the football program failed to report sexual abuse committed by other players to police.
The lawsuit, which is seeking an unspecified amount of damages, was filed in federal court on behalf of the former students and their parents by attorney Daniel Raynak.
The claim, dated May 16, comes three months after Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery announced he would not file charges against any of the school administrators, even after police had said there was evidence people reported to staff that some football players were sexually abused.
Chandler police had recommended three school administrators be charged with child abuse in connection to the hazing incidents.
Montgomery said at a press conference in February that he would not file charges against former Principal Ken James, former Athletic Director Shawn Rustad and former head football coach Steve Belles because there were not enough victims that came forward to make a strong case against school administrators. If more victims came forward, he could reopen the case, Montgomery said at the time.
The lawsuit says that James, Rustad and Belles conspired to not report the sexual abuse reports to police, did nothing to stop further abuse, didn’t punish the abusers and didn’t protect the victims.
The abuse, according to the lawsuit, happened between the school years of 2015 to 2017 by other players identified in the lawsuit as John Does.
The lawsuit also names Rustad’s and Belles’ wives; former assistant coach Manuel Palomarez and his wife; the Chandler Unified School District and Hamilton High School.
Among the claims the lawsuit makes is that Palomarez, who is a current Hamilton school teacher, “admitted to law enforcement that he was aware of allegations of sexual attacks of the type described above by members of his football team as early as May 2016.”
It also says Belles “told his players not to ‘do sexual things to each other’.”
According to the lawsuit, Rustad received an anonymous voicemail message from someone who made allegations of sexual attacks against football players. But Rustad didn’t report this voicemail to police, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit also detailed at least five instances in which players say they were sexually assaulted and sexually abused. In one case in January 2017, Palomarez walked into a locker room when players tried to sexually assault a teammate while someone recorded some of the attack and uploaded it to a social-media site, the lawsuit says.
The suit also says the five teens have suffered severe emotional distress, shock, horror and psychological trauma, as well as sleepless nights, nausea and headaches as a result.