American Football Ball on Grass

“I have been robbed of the experience, of the joy, of even a single picture of my oldest son attending a prom.” 

Hamilton High School students have settled a federal lawsuit against Chandler Unified School District for a hazing incident involving the school’s football team. 

Five unnamed students filed the litigation last year against the district and several administrators after a criminal investigation uncovered a possible web of secrecy used to cover-up the hazing incidents.

A district spokesman said the settlement’s terms are confidential and cannot be disclosed. Lawyers involved in the case did not respond to requests for comment.

In 2017, Chandler Police opened an investigation into allegations of sexual assault.

The case involved six freshman players who were allegedly pinned down in a locker room and sexually violated as part of a hazing ritual. The assaults allegedly took place over two school years, from 2015 to 2017.

One player alleged he was were assaulted at the beginning of their sophomore year at Hamilton.

“I had heard of previous hazing activity before I was assaulted but didn’t know the severity of it until it happened to me,” the player stated in a court affidavit. “The hazing was common knowledge among those associated with the football team.”

The investigation ended with charges against three students – one charged as an adult – and the resignation of Steve Belles, the team’s head coach.

Hamilton’s former principal Ken James and Athletic Director Shawn Rusted were reassigned to new positions within the district.  

Chandler Police recommended criminal charges for Belles, James and Rustad for failing to report sex crimes. But the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute them due to a lack of admissible evidence. 

Belles, James, and Rusted were listed as defendants along with CUSD in the civil suit, which accused them all of negligence.

“None of them can dispute the sexual assaults occurred as there was a concession the locker room was not properly supervised, and there was not constant supervision,’’ the plaintiff’s lawyer wrote in court filings earlier this year. 

Multiple players told investigators Belles repeatedly warn the team to stop their hazing activities long before the police got involved, court records show. 

Belles told investigators no one had ever told him about the hazing until Chandler Police opened its investigation. 

Attorneys representing Belles and the other defendants argued none of Hamilton’s staff knew of the hazing allegations until early 2017; and after they found out, the defendants responded with appropriate action.

“Without waiting for the results of any investigation, the Hamilton administration arranged to have a security guard in the varsity locker room whenever players were present and imposed strict limits on the amount of time players could be in the locker room,” defense counsel wrote in court documents. 

One parent insisted Hamilton’s coaches knew of the hazing culture for months and blamed them for not stopping it.

“They chose not to investigate themselves,” the parent told Chandler Police. “They’ve chosen not to punish or discipline kids.” 

Students and parents described incidents of players throwing bottles of urine at each other and grabbing the genitals of younger players. 

The assailants allegedly called themselves the “The Tune Squad” and would sometimes document their hazing through Snapchat videos, police reports show.

Nathaniel Thomas, the only player to be criminally charged as an adult, allegedly recorded videos on his phone of physical fights taking place in the locker room, police reports show. 

Thomas is scheduled to go to trial in January for charges of child molestation and sexual assault. Two other players, who were charged as juveniles, have had their cases adjudicated after admitting to the crimes.

Parents of the five players who filed the lawsuit claimed their child’s personalities have dramatically changed since the assaults. 

“My son used to participate in school dances and events,” one parent stated in an affidavit. “I have been robbed of the experience, of the joy, of even a single picture of my oldest son attending a prom.”

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