WARREN, Mich. – Three Warren De La Salle students who were suspended during a football hazing investigation have filed a lawsuit against the school, claiming the school discriminated against them because of their race, tried to blackmail them to implicate others and conspired to spread false information.
Warren police conducted an investigation into the De La Salle football program after the team forfeited its Michigan high school playoff game due to allegations of hazing. When officials completed their investigation, they recommended charges against three students -- an 18-year-old and two 16-year-olds, according to authorities.
Investigators said the incident happened Oct. 19 at a team dinner. Many of the younger players knew the hazing was coming, so they ran from their teammates, officials said.
Warren Police Commissioner Bill Dwyer said an investigation revealed the students allegedly held a victim to the floor of the locker room and used a broom during the incident.
Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith said the victim in the case didn’t want the case to go forward and refused to be interviewed by police.
Police said the 18-year-old student was 17 at the time of the incident. He could face an assault charge as an adult, according to authorities.
Special Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Wendling, of the St. Clair County Prosecutor’s Office, has been appointed to the case, officials said.
Students file lawsuit
A lawsuit was filed Monday on behalf of the three suspended students.
The lawsuit says the students have been suspended from school for 46 days since Nov. 4 and that two of them are in danger of not graduating because of the school’s “failure/delay to make a decision.”
At the time of the suspension, their parents were told over the phone that the students were “mentioned in an investigation,” the lawsuit states. Since that date, none of the parents have received more information about the suspension, they said.
According to the lawsuit, the students were approached during their suspension by De La Salle administrators at the direction of school President John Knight and asked to implicate other students in order to get back into school.
The administration “went so far as to provide a list of 10 players, all of whom are Caucasian, to parents of the (suspended students), asking to confirm that the players are involved,” the lawsuit says. “The three (suspended students) are not Caucasian.”
The 10 students on the list had been named in the investigation but were still in school, the lawsuit states.
“All plaintiffs refused to be blackmailed into returning to school, even though President John Knight and his administration would have allowed them back in school,” the lawsuit says.
Since the suspended students refused to turn over names, their family members agreed to meet with an investigator hired by Knight to tell their side of the story, according to the lawsuit. After speaking with the investigator, family members were told that investigator was no longer working on the case, but that it would be taken over by Knight, the lawsuit says.
Knight told the students he wanted to meet with them to get their side of the story, they said. He told them if they didn’t want to meet with him it would “make his decision much easier,” according to the lawsuit.
Knight told the suspended students that he is the sole person to make all decisions regarding their suspension, they said. But he told others the Board of Christian Brothers must make the decision on whether to allow them back in school, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit accuses Knight of conspiring with the Board of Trustees to spread false information about the alleged hazing incident and the suspended students.
“Even though they have not bee charged, President Knight and the De La Salle Board of Trustees continue to conspire to keep the (suspended students) from attending school and/or from graduating," the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, by continuing the suspension, school officials are insinuating the students have engaged in misconduct, “which constitutes slanderous and libelous communication.”
Here are the eight counts listed in the lawsuit:
- Breach of implied contact
- Defamation -- slander
- Defamation -- libel
- False light invasion of privacy
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress
- Violation of Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act
- Civil extortion
- Civil conspiracy
Here is a statement from De La Salle:
“We cannot comment on legal matters. Since we were first made aware of the hazing activities, we have been steadfast in maintaining the safety, health and education of all De La Salle students as our top priority while we navigate this troubling issue. We have been working in full collaboration with our Board of Trustees and the Christian Brothers on all actions in response to the hazing allegations and will continue to do so as we address this lawsuit. Our hearts and prayers are with those impacted by the hazing, particularly the students who were victimized and their families.”