Wheaton College hazing case: Why so long for charges? Player's lawyer wants answers

An attorney for one of five Wheaton College football players accused in a teammate's hazing 18 months ago said his client is “frustrated” with how long it took to bring charges — especially because the players already had been punished by the school.

“He's certainly, shall I say frustrated, disappointed,” attorney Mark Sutter said of his client, Noah Spielman, at a news conference in Chicago. “This is something that's been lingering for over a year and a half.”

Sutter vowed to investigate the reason for the delay in criminal charges.

Wheaton Police Chief James Volpe said the probe was complex.

“This was a lengthy, lengthy investigation that included interviewing dozens of people, trying to find them after they went home for the summer,” he said Tuesday. “You're dealing with college kids as your witnesses, as your offenders, as people you need to discuss this with, and they're just not here anymore.”

Also, he noted, the player making the allegations had left the area, further complicating matters.

“And covering all the bases before you get felony charges against a person, we want to make sure we've got all of our facts straight and enough evidence to get convictions, and that's why an investigation like this takes so long.”

Spielman — son of former All-Pro NFL lineman Chris Spielman, now a Fox Sports analyst — was among five athletes charged Monday with aggravated battery, mob action and unlawful restraint. They are accused of abducting the teammate from his dorm room, tying him up with duct tape and leaving him in a baseball field near Hawthorne Elementary School in Wheaton in March 2016.

The student's lawyer, Terry Ekl, says the player, then a freshman, was left with two injured shoulders, which required three surgeries. During the car ride to the ballfield, Ekl said, the student was threatened with sexual violations.

After the hazing, he left Wheaton College and now attends another school.

The five students — Spielman, James Cooksey, Kyler Kregel, Benjamin Pettway, and Samuel TeBos were issued bail of $50,000 by a DuPage County judge on Monday. Two of them, Spielman and Kregel, turned themselves into police Tuesday and posted the required $5,000. The final three are expected to turn themselves in by Friday morning, Wheaton Deputy Chief Bill Murphy said.

After the charges were announced, Wheaton College suspended the players. Three of them had played as recently as Saturday's game, a 37-14 victory over Cartage College. The school is ranked fourth in the nation in Division III.

A second football player was hazed the same evening and also left in the school ballfield. But he was uninjured, and “had a much different experience than the second player involved,” Wheaton police said. He remains on the football team.

According to police, the following occurred:

The hazed 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 car.

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

The student issued this statement: “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. 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.”

In turn, the college issued a statement saying its leaders were “deeply troubled” by the allegations, and called the conduct “entirely unacceptable and inconsistent with the values we share as human beings and as members of an academic community.”

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

Reaction to the hazing were varied. A 1992 Wheaton College graduate, Danielle Hensley, said she, too, was disturbed that the college 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.”

Ekl, the accuser's attorney, has expressed similar concern.

But Matt Norton, a graduate student who says he knows some of the accused players, says he has talked to them about what occurred, and their accounts don't reflect the charges.

“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.

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