PHOENIX - The former head coach and two administrators from Hamilton High School will not face charges in connection with an ongoing hazing case involving the school's football team.
At a Wednesday morning press conference, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said his office has decided not to file charges against the three men due to a lack of evidence and witness cooperation.
Montgomery gives decision not to file charges against 3 adults involved in Hamilton HS investigation,not enough evidence/witness cooperation pic.twitter.com/3F0hfDTXkA— MaricopaCounty Atty. (@marcoattorney) February 14, 2018
Principal Ken James, athletic director Shawn Rustad and coach and teacher Steve Belles were reassigned within the Chandler Unified School District in September amid the sexual assault investigation involving Hamilton's varsity football team.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said some football player's parents forbade investigators from speaking to their sons. Some of the boys were victims or witnesses to the locker room abuses.
That's disgusting," said attorney John Torgenson, who represents one victim. "These are kids that have been molested and sexually assaulted, and people are not coming forward."
Police launched an investigation in February 2017, when four alleged victims accused Hamilton High football players of molesting them between September 2015 and January 2017 in the team’s locker room. Two additional victims came forward in September 2017.
"If you are unwilling to do what is right by the justice system at least do what is right by them in ensure they get an opportunity to speak to a trained professional about what they saw and or experienced," Montgomery said. "Helping them process these events is critical in making sure they develop into healthy young men."
"These coaches had a meeting where they talked about individuals being touched in a sexual manner, and they did nothing about it going forward, and more people were victimized," said Daniel Raynak, an attorney for five victims, who filed a notice of claim against the Chandler Unified School District.
Steve Belles' attorney, Dennis Wilenchik, says the allegations against the former head coach were "completely distorted." Wilenchek contends Belles was "never aware of any misconduct going on" and there is "no substance to any claims."
Following the investigation, Chandler police had also recommended various charges against James, Rustad, and Belles, including failure to report, child abuse, and hindering prosecution.
Three teens are currently facing charges in the case.
Belles, Athletic Director Shawn Rustad, and Principal Ken James remain employed by CUSD; however, they have been reassigned away from the Hamilton campus. Belles has decided to quit at the end of the current school year.
Under Arizona law, educators can also lose their state certification if they fail to report abuse of students. No action has been taken against the three Hamilton staff members at this point.
Chandler Unified School District released the following statement afterward:
To Staff and Parents:
Today, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery announced that his office had completed its review of the hazing allegations at Hamilton High School and will not be filing criminal charges against any District personnel.
In an effort to avoid distraction to HHS while the District awaited the outcome of the County’s investigation, HHS Principal Ken James, Assistant Principal Shawn Rustad and Former Head Coach Steve Belles were assigned to a different work site. Steve Belles subsequently notified the District that he would not be returning. Since that time, the Hamilton High School administrative team, faculty and staff have worked diligently to ensure that students continue to receive a quality educational experience. With the County Attorney’s announcement, the District and HHS administrators will focus their time and attention to move the already outstanding Hamilton High School community forward.
The District Administration has been diligently determining what remedial measures could be made to promote student safety at Hamilton High School and throughout the District. Listed below are actions already undertaken:
• The District has redesigned and remodeled the Hamilton High School locker rooms to improve the staff’s supervision capabilities.
• The District is requiring an increased level of staff supervision to increase student-athletes’ awareness of staff presence and prevent improper student conduct at all sites.
• The District revised the Anti-Hazing training video that coaches, athletic staff, students and parents are required to view. The video is now more student-focused and includes specific examples designed to increase student understanding.
• The District continues to require all coaches, athletic directors and athletic support staff to complete training on “Bullying, Hazing and Inappropriate Behavior” developed by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
• The District formally adopted a Character Education curriculum for junior high and high school coaches and athletes. The curriculum is a requirement for all student athletes and coaches.
• The District has made an online survey available for students and parents to complete at the end of each athletic season, which will provide a means for students and parents to alert the District to concerns that otherwise may not have been reported.
• The District has arranged for the County Attorney’s office to provide training on reporting requirements to administrators, faculty and coaches. The training materials will be utilized in the required staff trainings that will be provided annually to District employees.
Please know that we recognize that students, parents, staff and the community at large have been affected by the events that have occurred. You should be proud to know that the HHS staff members continue to excel at their profession and the students continue to achieve at the top of every category when compared to other high schools in the State and nation. And with your support, HHS will remain a quality environment where student safety prevails and academic achievement thrives.
We will keep you informed as we move forward.
Camille Casteel, Ed.D