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Prosecutor won't file charges in Warren De La Salle hazing case

Posted at 4:01 PM, Jan 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-28 22:37:57-05

(WXYZ) — The St. Clair County Prosecutor will not be filing charges in connection to hazing involving the Warren De La Salle football team.

"Based upon all the information made available for our review, it is the opinion of our office that criminal charges cannot be substantiated at this time," wrote County Prosecutor Michael D. Wendling in a letter released Tuesday. "While we are confident that a criminal incident did occur, we do not have admissible evidence to move forward with prosecution."

The review included an independent examination by the St. Clair County Prosecutor's Office. That review included re-contacting and re-interviewing witnesses, attempting to speak to all victims in the case, speaking to school administrators and coaching staff at De La Salle, and attempting to gain access to all evidence and reports surrounding the case, the prosecutor's office said Tuesday.

With that being done, Wendling says there is still a lack of evidence to bring about charges.

"The lack of evidence is the result of multiple circumstances that are beyond our control," he said. "By the time the Warren Police Department had been contacted in relation to this incident important evidence had already been lost or destroyed."

Wendling adds that additional factors resulted in the decision not to file charges, including the Warren Police Department not being contacted until after an internal investigation was completed at the school. Also, documents and reports that were created during the school's own independent investigation have been withheld at the suggestion of their legal counsel.

The majority of the school's coaching staff has declined interviews, which was also done under the advice of the school's legal counsel, Wendling said.

Victims and their families didn't provide "sufficient information," which may have been due to pressure from peers, parents of students and school faculty, he added.

And although some criminal cases can bring charges even with non-cooperating victims, in this instance, for charges to be filed the prosecutor's office says "other legally admissible evidence must be present."That independent evidence couldn't be secured in this case, Wendling said.

Ultimately, a lack of cooperation and transparency from the school is what led to no charges being filed.

"Moreover, staff meetings and board meetings where the incident and discipline of these students/suspects was addressed were not open to the general public and no minutes or discussion notes have been provided," according to Wendling. "The non-cooperation from De La Salle staff is especially upsetting considering that they are the people who have an obligation to protect these children and are mandated to report any misconduct."

In November 2019, the St. Clair County prosecutor took over the investigation involving the Warren De La Salle football team.

Macomb County prosecutor Eric Smith recused himself from the case because one of the office's senior assistant prosecutors is a potential material witness in the case. That created a conflict of interest that "precludes us from making the necessary charging decisions on this case."

The school abruptly canceled their football season in November after claims varsity players used broomsticks in a sexual manner to haze younger players in the locker room ritual.

Police say there was no penetration. Out of 87 players, police say 18 have refused to talk.

The Warren Police Department asked the Macomb County prosecutor to file assault charges against three teens connected to the hazing incident.

The students involved in the investigation filed a lawsuit, claiming they are being discriminated against due to their race. They note that of the 13 students initially implicated, the only students who were suspended are minorities, while the remaining ten students have faced "no discipline whatsoever" and are Caucasian.

According to the lawsuit, the three students have been suspended for 46 days. Two of the students are in danger of not graduating. The lawsuit states that they were approached by De La Salle administrators at the direction of its president, John Knight, and have been asked to implicate other students in order to get back into the school.