Police: Charges not wanted by players so far in Elk River hazing incident

  • Article by: Star Tribune and wire reports
  • Updated: August 27, 2010 - 11:45 AM

An investigation of hazing in the Elk River football program has yet to turn up any players who want to pursue criminal charges. Police Chief Jeffrey Beahen says that doesn't mean no one will be charged.

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Members of Elk River's varsity football program came to school Thursday to be interviewed about an alleged hazing incident.

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

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An investigation of hazing in the Elk River football program, which has caused the program to be suspended, has yet to turn up any players who want to pursue criminal charges.

Police Chief Jeffrey Beahen says that doesn't mean no one will be charged. He says investigators still have five or six players to talk to. But Beahen says most players interviewed so far didn't think the incidents were a big deal.

Beahen says players reported being poked or struck with a broom handle on the leg or buttocks. He says no one has reported being hit in the genitals or elsewhere.

The hazing apparently occurred Monday and Tuesday between morning and afternoon practices, a source said. Players entering the wrestling room were accosted, forced to the floor and struck or poked on or near the buttocks. Players were dressed in their uniforms, including padding, and no one was forced to disrobe, the source said. It's apparently the second year such hazing has occurred at the school.

Up to 25 players may have been involved as either victims or perpetrators, but the source said the final number will probably drop once the investigation is completed. Elk River officials said they have hired the Minneapolis law firm of Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney to conduct the investigation.

The program was suspended Wednesday after the parent of a player reported that her son was the victim of hazing.

On Thursday, players filed into the high school throughout the day for interviews with school officials. About 50 athletes were interviewed by phone Wednesday, said district spokesman Casey Mahon. Team coaches were also to be interviewed Thursday. The coaches, Mahon said, were put on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

Not 'just kids fooling around'

Some players and parents were angry; all refused media interviews.

Meeting with the media at the school Thursday, Elk River Superintendent Mark Bezek said "a cross-section of the team is being interviewed right now."

Bezek announced Wednesday night at a meeting of football players and parents that football practices were being canceled "until further notice."

"This isn't just kids fooling around," Bezek said. "This has some very serious implications."

The school board will meet in closed session Sunday evening to review the findings of the investigation, Bezek said.

"To me, it's the worst form of humiliation and it's dehumanizing," Bezek said of the hazing.

He and Mahon said they would not describe the hazing.

According to the source, the two initial complaint calls about the hazing came from the parents of black players. District officials soon discovered, however, that white players were also hazed, and that the choice of player victims seemed random.

"It doesn't make any rhyme nor reason," the source said. "Some kids got it last year, but not this year. Some kids got it both years. ... Some of the kids that got poked last year are the perpetrators now." The ordeal apparently didn't last long.

"Some people said one poke, other people said a couple. It seemed like it wasn't any prolonged thing." The source said the perpetrators were likely "aiming for the rectum," but that there was no evidence of penetration.

Football season starts Sept. 2

Elk River High School activities director John Barth said Wednesday night that he doesn't expect the team to miss any games. The season starts Sept. 2 at home against Becker.

Elk River Police Capt. Robert Kluntz said police are trying to determine whether a criminal assault occurred, but he declined to be more specific.

Kluntz said he is encouraging "parents to speak to their sons, and if they were victims, to give us a call."

The hazing was the big buzz on Facebook among Elk River High School students on Thursday. Students debated the severity of the incident, how many students were actually involved and whether media reports were blowing the incident out of proportion.

"They are making a bigger deal about this than it really is," wrote one student.

Another student wrote that the incident involved a smaller group of the team in the wrestling room with students using broom sticks on other athletes. One football player's Facebook wall was filled with debates over the severity of the situation. When he said he wanted to transfer schools, another student replied to him, "stop talking about it on Facebook before Cross finds out and kills us all."

The head coach is Mike Cross, who is beginning his seventh year in that position. He also teaches health education at the high school. Cross was not immediately available to comment.

The varsity program will remain suspended at least until the end of the investigation, which could be as soon as Friday, Mahon said. The investigation will look not only into the actions of student-athletes but coaches as well, he said.

Mahon said that the allegation "has come just completely out of the blue."

Under the suspension, players are not allowed to use school facilities or equipment to practice. "If they want to [practice on their own], fine," Mahon said. "In terms of their fitness, that's cool."

Star Tribune staff writer Kelly Smith contributed to this report. Norman Draper • 612-673-4547 Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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