Police say prosecutors shot down felony charges in soccer sex hazing
Exterior of Maine West High School in Des Plaines, Illinois on November 20, 2012. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times
Updated: January 1, 2013 6:28AM
Des Plaines police said they sought felony charges in a hazing incident in which teenage soccer players were allegedly sodomized by teammates.
But so far, Cook County prosecutors have shot them down.
And for now a criminal investigation into apparent hazing rituals at Maine West High School has only resulted in misdemeanor charges against six teenagers.
“We took this case very seriously,” Des Plaines police Deputy Chief Nick Treantafeles said. “We did our part of the investigation, however, we must work in conjunction with the state’s attorney’s office because they’re the ones that will prosecute the case.”
Prosecutors simply didn’t have what they needed legally to charge the teens with felonies, a spokeswoman said.
“Based on the evidence and the information that existed at the time that we received these cases, we did not have the requisite evidence to bring felony charges,” said Sally Daly, spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Legal experts pointed to the many unknowns in the Maine West hazing case. Police reports can’t always be trusted, one expert said.
But given the allegations that have been made and the publicity surrounding the case after the filing of a lawsuit against the school district, one former prosecutor said the misdemeanor charges might not be the end of the story.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if Anita Alvarez says, ‘Let’s take another look at this,’” said Paul DeLuca, a defense attorney based in Oak Brook Terrace who once worked as a prosecutor in Cook and DuPage counties.
Daly said that could happen if more evidence turns up.
“If there’s any new information or any additional evidence that would be presented to this office we would certainly review it,” she said. “At this point in time we have not been presented by the police department [with] any new evidence.”
Police said the investigation is ongoing. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and Maine Township High School District 207 are also investigating.
The misdemeanor charges filed so far resulted from an incident in which three soccer players were allegedly sodomized on campus Sept. 27 as part of an initiation into the soccer team, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of two of those boys. Police reports, however, only list two 14-year-old victims that day.
Police reports and an attorney for two of the players said their teammates pulled down the victims’ underwear and sodomized them with fingers and sticks.
That lawsuit also includes allegations of hazing on the soccer team in 2007 and the baseball team in 2008.
After a witness, another 14-year-old soccer player, reported to his parents this year’s alleged assault by older varsity players and his parents contacted the school, police, an assistant state’s attorney and child-advocates interviewed two of the victims on Oct. 3, according to a Des Plaines police report.
On Oct. 11, the state’s attorney’s felony review department was contacted by police, and the assistant state’s attorney was briefed on the case. Then she and other investigators interviewed players, according to the police report. Another assistant state’s attorney was also present for some of the interviews.
Treantafeles said police called felony review, the wing of the state’s attorney’s office that approves more serious charges, because police were seeking felony charges.
“Through out interviews with the victims, we believed there was a possibility that some felony charges could apply,” the deputy chief said.
But in the end, prosecutors said no.
The assistant state’s attorney “denied any felony charges for this incident,” the report states.
Police reports show the “original offense” the offenders were to be charged was criminal sexual assault. In another column, the report shows the offense was changed to battery/hazing.
“After listening to the interviews it was decided we would not move ahead with felony charges,” Treantafeles said.
Former prosecutor DeLuca said it might not have been clear who did what during the alleged assault. But he said if the students agreed as a group to sexually assault a fellow player, they could all be charged the same way under the theory of accountability.
Sam Amirante, a former Cook County judge, said comments in police reports can be inaccurate or misleading, though. He also said sexual assault charges require some sexual intent, and prosecutors could have been extra cautious because of the significant consequences for the students if they’re charged with sexual assault.
They’re at an age, he said, when people do “dumb things.”