No Charges In Football Hazing Probe
Hanover High Report Details Skits That Depicted Sex Acts
Hanover — The Norwich police chief has decided not to press hazing charges against members of the Hanover High School football team after players participated in skits that the chief called “tasteless, inappropriate activities.”
Hanover High canceled the football team’s homecoming game on Sept. 20 after the administration discovered that a majority of the players had participated in what the school called “egregiously inappropriate” behavior that objectified women during a gathering at the home of one of the players in Norwich to celebrate the end of preseason practice.
The administration declined to provide more details about the incident, except to say that it occurred in the form of skits in which upperclassmen instructed freshmen team members to roast the seniors.
According to a report Norwich Police Chief Doug Robinson supplied to the Valley News upon the newspaper’s request, the skits ranged from sexually explicit encounters in which the players acted out scenes of students having sex with other students, teachers having sex with other teachers and students using drugs and alcohol.
The skits ranged from the benign, such as someone falling asleep on the bus and a teammate writing on his face, to a skit where five team members acted out a gang rape of a female, the report said.
Robinson said no drugs or alcohol were involved, and the players did not touch or grab each other and “everyone had their clothes on.”
Robinson said that based on conversations he had with Hanover High Principal Justin Campbell, Superintendent Frank Bass and Dean of Students Ian Smith about what disciplinary actions they were taking, he has decided not to pursue further action.
In New Hampshire, hazing is a misdemeanor offense, although in Vermont it’s a civil violation, which gives the Norwich police chief leeway in how to apply the law. Offenders could be issued tickets. The tickets can run as high as $5,000, but Robinson said the students likely would have faced fines of about $300.
“I based my response on how I felt that the school acted appropriately with their sanctions and disciplines that they handed out to whoever is involved,” Robinson said. “I was satisfied with that. I didn’t see where going further and writing a dozen tickets for hazing would serve any purpose.”
Robinson said he thinks the skits could rise to the level of hazing because some of the freshmen felt peer pressure to participate.
As a potential civil violation, however, Robinson said he would be required to prove that the hazing occurred.
But Robinson said he wasn’t sure he’d be able to prove it, and regardless, he wasn’t sure it would be the appropriate course to take.
“Could I have (proved it was hazing)? I don’t know,” Robinson said. “If I could have, what purpose would it serve to issue these kids these tickets?”
Moreover, police have limited ability to investigate alleged civil violations. Unlike a criminal matter, civil investigations do not come with the authority to issue a subpoena to compel interviews with students and parents.
Robinson said he told school administrators that if students still feel they need to talk with police, his office is always open.
The skits occurred on Aug. 24, and under New Hampshire statute, school administrators are required to notify law enforcement officials if they suspect hazing occurred. The investigation shifted from Hanover to Norwich once it was learned that the gathering occurred at the Norwich home of one of the players, placing it under Vermont jurisdiction.
Robinson would not say where the event took place, except to say it was at a player’s house in Norwich. The school found out about the skits when a student went to administrators, Robinson said.
On Monday, Robinson spoke with Campbell, Bass and Smith and discussed how the school had investigated the incident.
Bass, the superintendent, then sent Robinson the administrators’ “summary” report of what had happened during the skits. Robinson reviewed that document — which did not include names of students — and asked Bass to provide more details, noting that the summary did not contain enough information for him to determine if further police involvement was warranted.
On Wednesday, Robinson was given a fuller report based on interviews that school administrators had conducted with students. Robinson said he spoke to Bass and Campbell a few more times to clarify questions before deciding to close the investigation.
Neither Bass nor Campbell could be reached for comment on Friday. At 1:20 p.m. yesterday, office assistants said that they had already left for the day. Neither returned emails or phone calls.
Hanover football coach Mike Ivanoski said after Friday night’s game, “the fact is they took accountability for their actions. They worked through it and did what they needed to do. They dealt with it like young men and moved on.”
Dresden School Board Chairman Carey Callaghan said earlier this week the School Board was briefed on the consequences that the football players faced, but said he knew few of the details about what occurred on Aug. 24.
Callaghan added that the School Board can act as an appeals board for disciplinary actions that are contested by students or parents. The School Board might not be able to fulfill its appellate function if it had already been briefed by the administration because of the appearance of being unfairly influenced.
Callaghan said he hadn’t inquired about the details because he said he trusted that the administration’s actions were appropriate. He also said it was important to “safeguard” the anonymity of those who were allegedly involved.
“I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest to bring individuals into the public spotlight because I think it has the potential to make matters worse,” Callaghan said. “My concern is the details have the potential to cause further harm to individuals involved.”
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3223.