WARREN, Mich. – Seven people are expected to face charges in connection with the Warren De La Salle football hazing investigation, according to the Warren Police Department.
Officials at De La Salle High School say they haven’t been contacted by the prosecutor’s office.
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.
Waren police said charges will be brought against seven people -- five as adults and two as minors. They will face misdemeanor charges of either assault or assault and battery, according to the Warren Police Department.
Prosecutors revealed Jan. 28 that they didn’t have enough evidence to take the case to court, suggesting the school officials withheld important documents and saying important evidence was destroyed before they received the case.
The next day, a new victim came forward. The family of a football player who said he was victimized during the alleged hazing was unhappy with the prosecutors’ decision. They said they were willing to talk to police.
A second accuser came forward the following day -- less than 48 hours after the prosecutors’ decision not to file charges.
On Feb. 13, more than 100 De La Salle parents gathered to share their disgust about how the school handled the allegations.
De La Salle statement
Below is the full statement from De La Salle High School. The statement was released at 3:50 p.m. Thursday.
"It is being reported in the media today that the Saint Clair Prosecutor’s Office will be charging seven of our students-athletes. We have not been contacted by the prosecutor’s office. The leadership at De La Salle Collegiate will continue to cooperate with local law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office as they engage this case. Our faculty, staff, and leadership team will continue to take appropriate action based upon the facts around this incident and to ensure that it does not occur in the future.
"De La Salle remains committed to creating a safe and positive environment for every student within its school community, and will continue to provide support to the students and families involved in this matter. De La Salle has and will continue to provide assistance to the students impacted by these events.
"When issues of safety arise, the school will always take immediate action to safeguard students. In doing so, the school is mandated by law to conduct an internal investigation regarding the problem or issue while fully cooperating with local law enforcement.
"De La Salle is student centered. The school is a place where every student has an opportunity to excel in academics, the arts, and athletics. Our graduates are making a difference in the community today and around the world. De La Salle continues to appreciate the suggestions and words of support that have been extended to our school by our alumni, donors, and the families within our educational community.
"In the year to come, De La Salle expects to continue its tradition of outstanding football programs. Over its storied history, the De La Salle football program has been committed to helping young men live out Lasallian Catholic values.
“De La Salle is a renowned Lasallian Catholic college preparatory school helping form exceptional young men who are centered on education, respect, faith, and inclusivity to positively challenge and impact one another, the greater community, and the future.”
Prosecutors blast De La Salle
According to prosecutors, there were multiple reasons they couldn’t initially file charges 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 alleged that school staff members put up roadblocks in the investigation, and the majority of the football coaching staff was not cooperative.
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,” prosecuting attorney Michael D. Wendling said Jan. 28 in a statement.
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 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 have 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.
Early Warren De La Salle timeline
On Dec. 16, Warren De La Salle released its version of a detailed timeline for the case.
Here’s the timeline:
- In the early afternoon, while traveling out of state, Knight received a phone call from a member of the school community informing Knight that that football players had been hazed with a broomstick in the locker room.
- Knight immediately consulted with the school’s attorney, who advised that the school needed to do a quick investigation.
- After speaking to the school attorney, Knight informed Principal Nate Maus and scheduled a call with him and Athletic Director Mike Watson to discuss the attorney’s recommendations and next steps. The decision was for Watson and Assistant Principal Brent Widdows to interview all senior football players the next day.
- Knight reached out to the Board of Trustees leadership to let them know about the reported incident and next steps.
- In the morning, the senior football players were called to the chapel. Brother Robert Deary stayed with the seniors in the chapel while Widdows and Watson brought each player to another room for individual discussions.
- The players were given the opportunity to go to the counseling office to make and sign a statement of what they did or did not know about the broomstick incident(s).
- By late afternoon, Watson communicated to Knight that yes, indeed, the broomstick incident was substantiated by a number of senior football players. It had happened and was still happening.
- Watson sent an email to football parents letting them know there was a report of an alleged hazing incident and they were questioned individually.
- A decision was made late Tuesday to interview the alleged victims, who were understood to be juniors.
- That evening, Knight, who was still traveling, received a call from another parent whose son was scheduled to be hazed with a broomstick, but had gotten out of it with the help of some senior players.
- Knight called board leadership to update them on the recent news.
- Knight was notified by Maus that a student provided a statement that he was hazed with a broomstick -- specifically held down against his will and jabbed, with clothes on, very hard with a broomstick in his rectal area, his legs, and thighs. He named three senior students as the assailants.
- Knight and the Board of Trustees held a conference call to discuss the matter, during which the board directed him to contact the authorities. They also discussed hiring a private investigator to do a wider investigation of how the alleged hazing incident(s) were permitted to occur and why they occurred, as well as policies and procedures to prevent hazing behaviors in the future. Additionally, during the call, Knight was told to contact a parent who works in the Macomb County prosecutor’s office for his guidance on next steps with the police.
- Knight reached out to the parent, who recommended that he should contact William Cataldo, a Macomb County prosecutor.
- Knight called Cataldo, who recommended he should speak to Warren police Detective Jim Twardesky, who is with the Special Victims Unit in the Warren Police Department.
- At 8 a.m., Knight left his first voicemail message for Twardesky.
- Knight received a phone call from a parent of a current sophomore, who claimed that his son was scheduled to go up to varsity for the playoffs and was scheduled to be hazed with a broomstick in September, but was able to get out of it.
- Knight called together his complete leadership team (Maus, Widdows, Watson, Geraldi, Dean, Rhea-Johnson, Roose, Esler) to update them.
- Giannone stopped by Knight’s office. During their conversation, Giannone mentioned that he told his captains to tell the team to “knock off the horseplay.”
- Knight met with Maus and Vice President Joe Gerardi, and the three of them agreed that the school should not play in the playoff game. There was a growing cloud of uncertainty about the football program that they, in good conscience, could not put De La Salle football players on the field the next day.
- Knife in school incident: During the lunch hour, De La Salle had a separate issue involving a young man in possession of a paring knife. The young man apparently went to the Wigs and Masks room and brandished the knife, showing a couple of his friends. One of those friends called 911 and the Warren Police Department showed up. The school went into lockdown. The young man was taken into custody and in due process with his legal advisers and parents. He is no longer a student at De La Salle. This was in no way connected to the football issue, and the young man was never bullied as, unfortunately, it was characterized in the news media.
- At 1:46 p.m., an email was sent to families via the school’s Student Information System, alerting them of the lockdown.
- Knight, Maus and Gerardi then met with Watson and Giannone to inform them that the school was going to forfeit the game. Based on the current information, the school could not let the players go in the locker room and on the field – in good conscience – and represent De La Salle.
- At 2:50 p.m., Knight held a brief faculty and staff meeting to inform them of the decision to forfeit the playoff game and the rationale behind it.
- At 3 p.m., Knight met with the varsity football players and coaches in the gym to share the decision with them.
- At 3:44 p.m., an email was sent through the SIS, informing families of the decision to cancel the rest of the football season.
- Before 4 p.m., Knight received a call from a parent who said her son received a threat that during the school’s All Saints Day liturgy, individuals wearing masks would ‘pop up and kill everybody.’ The decision was made to close school on Friday. Warren Police were immediately notified, and they arrived on site to begin an investigation.
- Shortly after 4 p.m., Knight called Twardesky for a second time and left him a voicemail.
- Sometime between 4 and 4:30, Knight called Cataldo to let him know that he hadn’t heard back from Twardesky. Cataldo said he would call back in 15 minutes. Cataldo never called back.
- At 4:58 p.m., another email was sent home to families alerting them that Friday’s classes were cancelled.
- Knight called Kevin Kijewski, superintendent of Catholic Schools, to inform him of two things: 1. The threat of violence against the school, which Kijewski acknowledged and said that Catholic Central had the same threat; and 2. The decision to forfeit the football game. Kijewski patched in Vic Michaels, director of the Detroit Catholic High School League. Kijewski was very supportive and grateful for the call. Michaels wanted to know if De La Salle knew of this before the state’s playoff draw and whether the school could have played the playoff game with freshmen and JV players. Knight’s answer was no to both questions.
- Dwyer was quoted in the media saying that the school was not cooperating with Warren police. Knight called Dwyer right away and made it clear that De La Salle was fully cooperative and had reached out to the officials who they were advised to contact (Twardesky).
- Twardesky returned Knight’s phone calls and asked him to meet with him at police headquarters. Knight and Gerardi met with Twardesky and two other police officials to outline the situation and answer questions.
- Based on the allegations, Maus, Widdows and Knight agreed to suspend the three students who were the alleged assailants. Maus, Dean and Widdows called the students’ families Nov. 3 to inform them of the suspension until further investigations were completed.
- Knight and Maus sent an email to families with an update of the three incidents that occurred Oct. 31.
- Knight received a call from Warren Police Sgt. Greg Booton, requesting to come to De La Salle to interview all of the varsity football players. Maus and Knight cooperated with Booton, and it was agreed that no young man would be interviewed without permission from their parents. Booton and four detectives arrived at school at 1 p.m. to conduct their interviews.
- At 3:57 p.m., Maus sent an email through SIS to inform families of the new safety measures in place at school, which included additional security in the building, and the Counseling Department’s Traumatic Event and Crisis Intervention team prepared a teachers’ tool kit and information session for students.
- Warren Police concluded their interviews with students, coaches and staff.
- Maus called Kenny Spear, Executive Director of Positive You, a social and emotional learning program, to discuss an assembly focused specifically on anti-hazing and anti-bullying. Maus had been in discussions with Spear before these incidents came to light regarding a series of student enrichment programs.
- Booton called to inform Knight that the police were going to turn over their findings to Smith.
- Knight and Maus met with Giannone to notify him that he was being put on paid administrative leave. These incidents had happened to the team under his watch for an alleged long period of time. He could not continue to oversee student activities until further investigations were conducted.
- Smith recused his office from the De La Salle case, stating that a senior assistant prosecutor on staff could be a potential material witness in the investigation.
- Maus sent an email to families about the investigation into the alleged hazing.
- The Board of Trustees hired Rehmann Corporate Investigative Services to conduct a thorough investigation into the football program.
- Maus officially engaged Positive You to host student assemblies throughout the 2019-2020 school year.
- The Board of Trustees hired Van Dyke Horn, a Detroit-based public relations firm that excels in crisis communications.
- Knight and Maus sent an email to families through the school’s SIS with an update on the investigation, as well as to let the community know of the independent investigation and the school’s partnership with Positive You.
- Wendling was assigned the hazing case.
- Positive You conducted an assembly with students and faculty. Additionally, about 10 parents signed up for a Positive You seminar to be scheduled for January.
- Nov. 1, 2019: Warren police begin to investigate hazing allegations
- Nov. 5, 2019: Investigation into hazing incident intensifies
- Nov. 8, 2019: Officials announce 3 teens could face charges
- Nov. 8, 2019: Hazing victim refuses to be interviewed
- Nov. 20, 2019: St. Clair County prosecutor appointed to case
- Dec. 17, 2019: Parents protest to have school president fired
- Jan. 10, 2020: Students return to class after hazing accusations
- Jan. 28, 2020: Prosecutors blast De La Salle for handling of investigation
- Jan. 29, 2020: New victim comes forward
- Jan. 29, 2020: Victim pledges to speak to police
- Jan. 30, 2020: Second accuser comes forward