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Hamilton High School officials won’t be charged in football hazing case

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PHOENIX — Several officials involved in the Hamilton High School football hazing case will not be charged because of a lack of evidence, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office said Wednesday.

County Attorney Bill Montgomery said witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the alleged hazings did not cooperate with investigators, adding that information from parents was considered hearsay.

“Without teammates coming forward and assisting with information, we’re unable to go forward and connect the dots,” he said during a press conference.

Because those witnesses did not come forward, Montgomery said he did not have enough corroborating evidence to charge the officials.

“While the allegations are sufficiently detailed for me to personally conclude that they happened, that is insufficient for us to be able to present that information to a jury and meet the burden of proof necessary within our criminal process,” he said.

Montgomery said his office was not through with the case and repeated a call for other potential victims or people with information to contact police.

In July, the Chandler Police Department recommended former head coach Steve Belles and principal Ken James both be charged with child abuse and failure to report child abuse.

Belles, James and then-Athletic Director Shawn Rustad were reassigned after the allegations came to light.

Related: Police recommend charges for Hamilton officials in hazing case

Montgomery said criminal cases against three players would continue. There were at least 11 victims in the case, though more could be added.

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.

The crimes were allegedly committed between September 2015 and January 2017 on school grounds, but police said they first learned of them last February.

Related: Documents show more victims in Hamilton hazing case

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.

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.

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