3 more Maine West families join hazing lawsuit
Families of three more Maine West students were added as plaintiffs Wednesday to a lawsuit filed last week in Cook County court alleging hazing by students within the school's athletic program.
Attorney Antonio Romanucci said at a news conference in Chicago that all four victims were sexually assaulted as part of the hazing accusations, which involve a student who was a freshman baseball player in 2008 and three freshman members of the varsity soccer team, with one case dating back to 2007.
He displayed a blown-up copy of a letter the family of the 2008 victim sent to school officials on Aug. 5 of that year, parts of which were blacked out, and questioned how administrators in Maine Township High School District 207 could have been unaware of what was happening. Regardless, school officials had a duty to report the attack to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, he said.
"If it has been going around for generations and been sanctioned and kept quiet, it's got to stop," Romanucci said. He added he does not anticipate more plaintiffs coming forward at this time, but he has received multiple calls from parents alleging their child was bullied or hazed at Maine West.
Romanucci said the common denominator in all four cases was coach Michael Divincenzo, who was overseeing the baseball and soccer programs at the time the hazing allegedly occurred.
As part of hazing rituals ordered and witnessed by coaches, the suit alleges, senior members of the team repeatedly struck three victims, molested them and sodomized them with foreign objects to "reward" them for making the team.
The baseball player was similarly "rewarded" for making the varsity team through repeated hazing on at least 10 different occasions in which he was forced to expose himself and verbally abused and threatened, the suit alleges.
The mother of the baseball player said Wednesday school officials reassured her that the "necessary steps" would be taken when notified about the attack, yet she said they did nothing against those involved. She requested her child be transferred to Maine East, which was promptly done. The mother said that she views her child having his pants and boxers pulled down as an act of sexual assault.
District 207 released a statement Wednesday acknowledging the correspondence from 2008 between the mother and Maine West High School administrators, but reiterated that it only came to the attention of Superintendent Ken Wallace on Nov. 16, at which time it was reported to DCFS and made part of the district's larger investigation.
Romanucci said the fact that the student was transferred soon after the spring 2008 hazing indicates district officials had some idea that there was a problem.
Maine West officials knew about and disciplined the students involved soon after the 2008 event, District 207 spokesman David Beery said Monday. Wallace wasn't named superintendent until 2009. He's been an administrator in the district since 2005.
"District 207 reiterates that the 2012 allegations were acted upon immediately, including notification of Des Plaines Police and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services right away," the statement said, noting that both investigations are ongoing.
Six students have been petitioned to juvenile court on charges of battery and hazing in relation to the Sept. 27 attack. None was charged with sexual assault upon the recommendation of the Cook County state's attorney's office, Des Plaines Deputy Police Chief Nick Treantafeles has said. The state's attorney's office has declined to comment.
Romanucci questioned why the state's attorney's office has not filed more serious charges.
"All four (victims) are admitting that they were sexually assaulted in one way, shape or form," he said. "The more that we uncover, the more the Des Plaines police department should investigate."
District 207 has taken disciplinary action stemming from the Sept. 27 attack against 10 students on the varsity soccer team and has temporarily reassigned Divincenzo and freshmen coach Emilio Rodriguez with pay. Both are District 207 teachers. Three Maine West soccer coaches who are not teachers have been removed from their coaching responsibilities and reassigned to other duties not specified. No further action is anticipated until the investigation is completed, Beery said.
Divincenzo's and Rodriguez's phone numbers at Maine West have been disconnected, and neither could be reached for comment Monday.
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