WARREN, Mich. – The St. Clair County Prosecutor’s Office announced Tuesday that there isn’t enough evidence to take the Warren De La Salle football hazing case to court.
According to the prosecutor, there are multiple reasons charges won’t be brought against the students allegedly involved, including the school’s decision to do an internal investigation before calling police, the school refusing to turn over its internal investigation to authorities and a lack of cooperation from the alleged victims and their families.
Also, the prosecutor alleges that staff put up roadblocks in the investigation, and the majority of the football coaching staff was not cooperative.
“Based upon all the information made available for our review, it is the opinion of our office that criminal charges cannot be substantiated at this time,” prosecuting attorney Michael D. Wendling said in a statement.
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.
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.
“While we are confident that a criminal incident did occur, we do not have admissible evidence to move forward with prosecution,” Wendling’s statement says.
Prosecutors said by the time they received the case, important evidence had already been lost or destroyed. The Warren Police Department wasn’t contacted until after the school had done its own internal investigation, officials said.
School officials withheld important documents and reports from their independent investigation and the majority of the coaching staff declined to speak with police on the advice of counsel, according to authorities.
“The non-cooperation from De La Salle staff is especially upsetting considering that they are the people who have an obligation to protect these children and are mandated to report any misconduct,” Wendling said in his statement.
Prosecutors said victims and their families didn’t provide sufficient information due to pressure by parents, students and staff members. Outside pressure created by the high-profile case has also affected the students involved, officials said.
Students filed lawsuit
A lawsuit was filed in December on behalf of the three suspended students. Those students had since returned to school.
The lawsuit said the students had been suspended from school for 46 days since Nov. 4 and that two of them were 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 stated.
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 said. “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 said.
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.
Here is a statement from De La Salle early in the investigation:
“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.”