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Police documents show more possible victims in Hamilton hazing

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PHOENIX — A massive number of documents released by the Chandler Police Department on Thursday showed there may be as many as five additional victims in the Hamilton High School football hazing case.

If all of them are added to the case, that would bring the total number of victims to 11. Even more could be added.

The nearly 700 pages released by police detail many of the students’ allegations, including some that claimed they were sexually assaulted in the football locker room by groups of players.

A majority of the alleged attacks — referred to by players as “initiations” — were against freshmen, whom older players referred to as “fresh meat.” The incidents were allegedly committed primarily by juniors on underclassmen who were called up to practice with the varsity squad.

The crimes were allegedly committed between September 2015 and January 2017 on school grounds. Police said they first learned of them in February.

However, the documents said at least one former player alleged similar hazing incidents had been going on for years. Items taken during a police search showed meeting notes from last year that included discussions on hazing.

The documents showed some of the victims were reluctant to speak to police because they were embarrassed or were getting pressure from their teammates to keep quiet.

A few players said at least one coach witnessed at least one attack and said the victim should fight back. The coach, whose name was redacted from the documents, allegedly did not step in to stop the incident.

Police have interviewed more than 110 people in the case so far.

Several Hamilton players were under investigation after the allegations surfaced in late March. Six players were arrested but only three were charged by police.

One 17-year-old has been charged as an adult with sexual assault, kidnapping and aggravated assault. Two 16-year-olds were charged as juveniles with kidnapping, aggravated assault and assault.

Ex-head coach Steve Belles and principal Ken James were both recommended for child abuse and duty to report child abuse charges in late July. Both are felonies.

Three school officials — Belles, James and then-Athletic Director Shawn Rustad — who are under scrutiny also withheld documents that were later found during a police search.

Among the items was an email with a screen shot of an exchange reportedly between two players about how coaches knew what was going on but didn’t do anything about it.

The message mentions that coaches held a meeting five months earlier in which they discussed the attacks.

“Had these offenses been properly reported it is possible that many of the sexual assaults would not have occurred,” lead investigator Amanda Janssen wrote in a report.

Investigators said Rustad received an anonymous voicemail in January saying younger football players were being harassed. A police report said the voicemail has been deleted.

At the direction of James, Rustad interviewed four players, including one who says his clothes were removed while he was held down, the records state. Investigators said Rustad relayed the information to Belles and instructed him to address this situation with the team.

Rustad didn’t notify the parents of the four players who had been interviewed, according to the police records.

Amanda Jacinto, a spokeswoman for the county prosecutor’s office in metro Phoenix, said the agency is reviewing the recommendation by investigators to charge James, Rustad and Belles.

“A charging decision has not been made in this case, but we are still encouraging anyone with information to come forward to investigators,” Jacinto said.

James, Rustad and Belles have been reassigned to other jobs within the school district.

“Steve Belles, if he had known about something, would have done something,” said Jack Wilenchik, one of his attorneys. “And the fact is (that) he didn’t know anything.”

Rustad and James didn’t respond to emails sent Friday seeking comment.

Terry Locke, spokesman for the Chandler Unified School District, said in an email that district officials will review the hundreds of pages of police records.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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