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Article updated: 12/19/2013 5:20 PM

Maine West hazing case delayed until January

Michael Divincenzo

Michael Divincenzo

 

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A legal issue related to the mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse will delay until January the trial of a former Maine West High School soccer coach facing misdemeanor charges of hazing, battery and failure to report abuse.

Arguing that prosecutors failed to prove their case, defense attorneys for Michael Divincenzo on Thursday asked Cook County Judge Jeffrey T. Warnick for a directed finding of not guilty. Citing the seriousness of the charges, Warnick instead asked both sides to submit briefs by Dec. 31 on how their positions are affected by the mandatory reporting statute, which requires school personnel to report suspected instances of child abuse or neglect. Warnick indicated he will rule on the defense motion on Jan. 8, 2014.

Defense attorney Thomas Breen said prosecutors had "not a scintilla of evidence to suggest" Divincenzo knew of or condoned the actions of some varsity players who prosecutors say tripped, hit and poked freshman players last year. During opening statements, prosecutors alleged the students were "initiated" by other students inserting objects into their buttocks.

Breen argued the reporting statute is "to protect children who can't protect themselves" -- children who appear malnourished or injured -- not to report behavior between students. Quoting earlier witnesses, Breen said varsity players on their own decided to initiate some freshman.

"This was just varsity players picking on younger kids," said Breen. "No harm. No foul."

"Some of the varsity players crossed the line and did something they should not have done," but Divincenzo didn't authorize it, Breen said.

Later, when Divincenzo found out, he punished the varsity players with additional conditioning drills, Breen said.

In her response to Breen's motion, Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Margaret Ogarek argued "the environment he created" made Divincenzo responsible for his players' behavior.

"His word was golden. If he said 'stop,' they stopped. If he said 'go,' they went," she said.

Later, after Divincenzo received a complaint from an "outside source" about a "dog pile," he instructed players to "keep it to yourself," said Ogarek, "further supporting and cementing (the players') idea that this was OK."

In his response to the state's argument against a directed finding, defense attorney Todd Pugh referenced the civil suits that have accompanied this case, describing it as "a theory of civil liability that has been shoehorned into a criminal complaint."

"These charges show an ignorance to what it means to be a boy," Pugh said.

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