Hamilton High School hazing case: Principal, athletic director, coach reassigned

CHANDLER, AZ - The principal, athletic director, and coach at Hamilton High School have all been reassigned within the district amid an ongoing sexual assault investigation involving the school's football team. 

The new roles filled by principal Ken James, athletic director Shawn Rustad and coach and teacher Steve Belles will not be on the Hamilton High School campus, according to a Friday release. The new assignments go into effect on Monday. 

The decision was made days after Chandler police said they are now investigating six students who claimed to have been sexually assaulted by players of the Hamilton High School football team.

A letter was sent to parents that said in part:

"While none of the employees have been charged, it could be some time before the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office decides how it will proceed. Therefore, to avoid any distraction caused by this uncertainty, the District administration and employees believe that reassignment is the best course at this time. Mr. Chris Farabee will serve as acting principal and Sharon Vanis will serve as acting athletic director...A teacher will assume responsibility for Mr. Belles’s classes."

ABC15 reached out to Steve Belles' attorney, Dennis Wilenchik for a comment about the move. Wilenchik said he cannot comment on the school's actions but is hopeful "this matter" will be put to rest soon. 

Any adverse actions against the Coach over the wrongful allegations of misconduct against him by anyone will be dealt with appropriately and when appropriate by us. thanks for the information.

ABOUT THE INCIDENTS 

  • Multiple assaults were committed against juvenile victims under the age of 15 while at the school. 
  • Freshman were targeted by varsity football players who referred to the new students as "fresh meat." 
  • Some of the attacks, which were sexual, were broadcast on social media sites. 
  • An investigation was launched in February after four victims came forward accusing Hamilton High football players of molesting them between September 2015 and January 2017 in the team’s locker room.
  • In January 2017, a player was reportedly standing outside the locker room while another player was being assaulted inside. Manny Palomarez, a coach, asked him what he was doing, and the player said he didn't want to go inside. Palomarez reportedly went inside, walked out without saying anything, and the alleged victim left the locker room in tears. 
  • A search warrant for emails was served in April 2017 by police. Deleted emails from parents that discussed safety concerns and decisions to pull their children out of the program were uncovered. Those emails had not been given to police.
  • At least five students, through their families, removed themselves from the school and the football program. 
  • Three staff members came forward and said they didn't trust the administration with holding anyone accountable. 
  • Student athletes were informed by team officials to talk to coaches first with any and all concerns they may have, and they were cautioned against talking to the media about the assaults. 

SHAWN RUSTAD - ATHLETIC DIRECTOR 

  • Staff members claim an anonymous call made to the athletic director's line was how they were first alerted of the abuse back in January 2017. That call was placed by a female who mentioned a specific name. The student who was mentioned was brought in and spoken with. More freshman students were called in to talk about the incidents, but their parents were never notified, nor were police.
  • One of the victims reportedly shared with Rustad that he had been sexually assaulted, and described the incident. Rustad had previously stated to officials that he had never been informed of those details by that particular student. 
  • Rustad met with the mother of one of the alleged victims, who reportedly told him she wanted to transfer her son out of the program after he was abused and also witnessed the abuse happening. 
  • Rustard sent an email to Belles containing a link called "Hazing, When Adults Look the Other Way" just a week before the incidents were reported to police. 

STEVE BELLES - COACH 

  • Palomarez said he was present at a meeting back in May 2016, when Belles told team members to "stop putting their hands in other players' butts or they would be removed from the team." Palomarez was reportedly present at several conversations that Belles had regarding the assaults. 
  • During the 2015-2016 season, a player said Belles told them there would be no "hazing, and no chasing each other, pulling down of pants and sticking fingers" in each other. 
  • Another player said Belles, during the middle of the 2016 season, told them to "stop committing gay acts."
  • In January 2016, Belles called the players a "bunch of Sanduskys." (Jerry Sandusky was convicted of sexual abuse during his time as an assistant football coach at Pennsylvania State University.) 
  • On at least 15 occasions, players or coaches were reportedly talked to by Belles or other staff members regarding the assaults. 
  • Detectives believe Belles was aware of detailed and specific attacks that happened as early as the 2015-2016 season. 

KEN JAMES - PRINCIPAL

  • James said he hadn't heard of any of the abuse allegations and that he hadn't heard of the abuse from parents, but he had met with the parents of another victim in October 2016 where they talked about the abuse allegations. 

SUGGESTED CHARGES

  • After the investigation, officials suggested the following charges: 
  1. Shawn Rustad face two counts: Failure to report, hindering prosecution
  2. Steve Belles face three counts: Failure to report, (2) child abuse 
  3. Ken James face four counts: Failure to report, (2) child abuse and hindering prosecution
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