A high-profile hazing investigation at Conestoga High ends quietly [updated]

     (OnlyInAmerica at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

    (OnlyInAmerica at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

    This report has been updated to include more information on the school district’s internal investigation.

    The claims were ugly — three football players sexually assaulting an underclassman with a broom handle in the Conestoga High School locker room as a part of ritual hazing called “No Gay Thursday.”

    On March 4, the Chester County district attorney’s office held press conference painting a picture of grisly hazing and leveling charges against three teens.

    On Tuesday, the district attorney’s office released a statement announcing the end of the case and presenting a much less violent account.

    According to the statement, also signed by counsel for the defendants, the victim was pushed and held down by three upperclassmen, and “one of the charged juveniles briefly poked the victim with a broom stick in the leg.”

    The statement followed intense national and local media coverage of the story and subsequent school board meetings in which some parents questioned the validity of the complainant’s account and defended the coaching staff.

    In the fallout from the initial charges, the district relieved head football coach John Vogan and other coaching staff of their responsibilities, and superintendent Richard Gusick released a statement condemning hazing. Gusick also hired a full-time athletic director to increase oversight, and Vogan resigned.

    Through its own investigation, the school district found a culture of hazing that included “back slapping, horseplay and obscene behaviors targeted towards underclassmen” sometimes under label “No Gay Thursday,” according to a letter from Gusick dated March 17. It also concluded an “insufficient adult presence throughout football season” allowed the hazing to take place.

    Some parents and students questioned the complainant’s motives after learning he did not immediately report the incident, which took place in October 2015, and about other offenses by the alleged victim under investigation.

    Authorities were investigating the student as a part of a sexting scandal involving a 13-year-old classmate and the school district was looking into whether he lived within the district’s bounds. Following the announcement of charges, local news reports stated the alleged victim had transferred schools.

    The trial was set to begin Tuesday.

    “I’m relieved of the outcome, but I’m still outraged,” said parent Dorian Ross, parent of one of the co-defendants and vocal critic of the district attorney’s office investigation. Ross said his son, who is now 18, wanted to take the plea deal rather than continue the trial.

    Following the district attorney’s investigation, the three teens admitted to a summary offense of harassment, a minor charge on the order of a traffic citation, according to the joint statement. Previously, they had been charged with assault and making terroristic threats, among other offenses.

    The summary offense plea may be expunged from their records, which are sealed, in six months.

    The district attorney’s office declined to comment on the matter because of the ages of all involved, as did school district officials. Attorneys for the defendants did not immediately return requests for comment.


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