Wheaton College players charged in hazing case begin turning selves in

Two Wheaton College football players were subjected to hazing by teammates in the spring of 2016, though only one was injured and cooperated with an investigation that led to charges being filed against five players, Wheaton police said Tuesday.

Both players were left on a baseball diamond near Hawthorne Elementary School. The second player, however, never contacted authorities and did not ask them to investigate, police said. That player is still on the team, according to a recent roster.

“The investigation has revealed that the first victim suffered injuries and had a much different experience than the second player involved,” Wheaton police Sgt. P.J. Youker said.

Five players face felony charges in connection with the March 2016 hazing of the then-freshman teammate.

James Cooksey, Kyler Kregel, Benjamin Pettway, Noah Spielman and Samuel TeBos are charged with aggravated battery, mob action and unlawful restraint.

They also were declared “inactive for practice or competition by the college's administration and coaching staff,” according to a statement Tuesday from the college. Three of the five participated in Saturday's game against Carthage College; the team is ranked fourth in the nation in Division III football.

Kregel turned himself in Tuesday afternoon at the Wheaton police station, and ABC 7 Chicago reported Tuesday night that Noah Spielman had turned himself in. A DuPage County judge a day earlier signed arrest warrants for the five players, setting bail for each at $50,000.

Christine Field, attorney for Kregel, said he posted bail and was given an Oct. 23 arraignment date. “We will definitely enter a plea of not guilty,” she said.

Wheaton police Chief James Volpe said he expects all of the remaining suspects to turn themselves in within a day or two.

“This is our standard operating procedure in cases like this, where we have cooperation from the offenders, they're local, we don't consider them a threat to the community, and we know where they're at,” Volpe said.

“And they're ready, willing and able to turn themselves in, and we're giving them that opportunity to get their stuff together, to turn themselves in, post the bond and answer to the charges.”

Police say the injured football player, a 19-year-old freshman transfer student from Indiana, was in a dorm room watching college basketball at about 10 p.m. when he was tackled by the other players. His legs and wrists were bound by duct tape, a pillow case was put over his head, and he was placed in the back seat of a vehicle, police said. His hands were bound behind his back.

Terry Ekl, an attorney representing the freshman, said his client's abductors during the car ride played music that intimated that he had been taken by foreign extremists who planned to sexually violate the student.

During the 10-minute ordeal, Ekl said both of his client's shoulder muscles were torn, an injury that required at least three surgeries so far.

“This has had a devastating effect on my life. What was done to me should never occur in connection with participation in a football program or any other activity,” the player said in a news release provided by Ekl. “I am pleased that the Wheaton Police Department and the DuPage State's Attorney's Office have completed their investigation and obtained these charges. I am confident that the criminal prosecution will provide a fair and just punishment to the men who attacked me.”

Ekl said his client was able to free himself, despite his injuries, after one of his captors loosened the tape on his wrists. He then contacted police about the attack and left the school the next day.

The freshman has since transferred and is attending college elsewhere, Ekl said.

In a statement, college officials said they were “deeply troubled” by the allegations against the five football players and called the conduct “entirely unacceptable and inconsistent with the values we share as human beings and as members of an academic community.”

“We are profoundly saddened that any member of our community could be mistreated in any way,” the statement said.

College leaders said the matter was brought to their attention by other members of the football team and coaching staff in March 2016. They say an independent, third-party investigator was hired to conduct an internal investigation, which resulted in a range of “corrective actions.” But they would not disclose those measures, citing federal student privacy protections.

Danielle Hensley, a 1992 Wheaton College graduate, said she is disturbed that school leaders said nothing about the hazing, now 18 months old.

“I just don't understand the silence, and I'm very, very disturbed,” she said, “and I'm not alone.”

Hensley also argued college officials could have publicly acknowledged that something happened and that they were working with authorities to get to the bottom of the matter.

“I certainly feel that they should have gotten in front of this story,” she said.

Ekl, too, suggested dissatisfaction with the college, saying a lawsuit is still possible.

Matt Norton, a graduate student who says he knows some of the accused players, says he has talked to them about what occurred.

“Having heard their side of it ... from their perspective, and then when I read the news report, it sounded like two completely different stories,” he said.

“It's hard to know what exactly happened that night - you know, I think that things got out of hand, and they weren't thinking about how their actions were affecting other people, and it's really unfortunate on both sides.”

None of the players are from the Chicago area. Cooksey is from Jacksonville, Florida; Kregel, Grand Rapids, Michigan; Pettway, Lookout Mountain, Georgia; Spielman, Columbus, Ohio; and TeBos, Allendale, Michigan. Spielman is the son of former NFL player Chris Spielman, now a broadcaster for Fox Sports.

College leaders also say they engaged outside experts to lead a campuswide review of the effectiveness of the school's anti-hazing policy.

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