Chandler police searching for anonymous tipster in Hamilton High hazing scandal

CHANDLER, AZ - The Chandler Police Department is asking for help identifying an anonymous tipster in connection with the Hamilton High School hazing scandal.

Chandler police said on Thursday that during the investigation detectives learned that an anonymous caller reached out to the former athletic director, Shawn Rustad, about the alleged hazing in Jan. 2017.

The person aid that younger football players were being "picked on" or harassed inside of the locker room at Hamilton High, officials said.

Chandler police are asking that the person who made that phone call contact detective A. Nolan at 480-782-4495.

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: 

Shawn Rustad face two counts: Failure to report, hindering prosecution

Steve Belles face three counts: Failure to report, (2) child abuse 

Ken James face four counts: Failure to report, (2) child abuse and hindering prosecution

Detectives believe had the incidents been "properly reported, it is probable that many of the sexual assaults would not have occurred." 

ABC15 did speak to Belles' lawyer. He believes Chandler police are misrepresenting statements in these documents.

They sent a letter to MCSO last month about said documents saying, in part, that the police report was "inaccurate in several material respects." 

In it, lawyers Dennis Wilenchik and Jack Bartness write, "There was no particular incident at Hamilton High that prompted Coach Belles to discuss hazing at this meeting. All of the coaches at Hamilton High are always sensitive and attentive to potential hazing issues; in fact, 'hazing' is included as a regular agenda item during the 'Coaches Meeting' at the beginning of the year."

They go on to say that there is no credible evidence to support any type of prosecution for Belles.

The district responded to ABC15 about the new documents, but said they could not comment due to the investigation and possible charges against administrators. 

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