New Plaintiff Joins Horrific Illinois School Hazing Suit
A fifth plaintiff has filed a lawsuit in Illinois claiming that members of a Des Plains high school’s sports teams were hazed in a manner so horrific it rose to a level of sexual assault.
The original suit alleges that four students were forced to the ground during soccer practice last year by their teammates and sodomized with fingers and sticks. School officials at Maine West High School knew about the abuse, the suit contends, but did nothing to stop it.
Attorneys contend that the hazing on the baseball and soccer teams dated back to at least 2007. They produced a letter from a mother written to the school’s principal in 2008 detailing an attack against her son. She said the school failed to take any action.
The school, principal and two coaches are named as defendants.
Initially, students who were implicated in the hazing were facing criminal charges, but a state prosecutor said last week after a five month investigation that the teenagers will not be brought to trial.
“Some of the more alarming incidents involve reports of the players’ shorts or pants being forcibly removed by groups of players who held them down and poked the younger players’ buttocks area with their hands or other objects,” Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said to a local television station.
The two soccer coaches named in the lawsuit, Michael Divincenzo and Emilio Rodriguez, have been fired over the allegations. Divincenzo is also facing criminal charges for hazing, battery and failing to report abuse.
“How it affects this civil case will be determined,” says Antonio M. Romanucci, of Romanucci and Blandin, attorney for the plaintiffs. “Obviously if he pleads guilty that could have a tremendous impact on the civil litigation.”
For future hazing cases, prosecutors just got a new arrow in their quiver. In addition to mandatory reporter laws for abuse that were already on the books, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn this month signed a bill specifically criminalizing failing to report hazing. “Anyone who turns a blind eye is now considered a hazer himself,” Romanucci says. “In the schools, letting what was going on with the coaches can no longer happen.”
It’s still unclear if more students will step up and seek recourse for the hazing at Maine West. “A lot of these kids have so much shame, embarrassment and guilt coming forward,” the attorney says. “They were sexually assaulted. It takes some time for them to get over their own feelings. I can’t say we’re not going to see any more plaintiffs here.”