Lawsuit: Wheaton College, football coach ignored hazing
A former Wheaton College football player who says he was injured in a hazing that rocked the campus last fall has filed a lawsuit against the school that also names head coach Mike Swider.
Charles Nagy, now 21, alleges he was injured in a violent hazing on March 19, 2016, that forced him to undergo two shoulder surgeries and prematurely ended his football career.
It also alleges that hazings were a common practice in the football program that coaches and other officials ignored -- a claim school officials strongly deny.
Kyler Kregal from Grand Rapids, Michigan; Ben Pettway from Lookout Mountain, Georgia; Noah Spielman from Columbus, Ohio; Samuel TeBos from Allendale, Michigan; and James Cooksey of Jacksonville, Florida, are accused of abducting Nagy from his dorm, putting a pillowcase over his head, tying him with duct tape, repeatedly punching and kicking him, and then leaving him partially nude on a baseball field near Hawthorne Elementary School in Wheaton.
The civil suit alleges the five played Middle Eastern music, spoke with Middle Eastern accents and told Nagy he would be sexually violated.
In September, a grand jury approved a nine-count indictment against the five players for aggravated battery, mob action and unlawful restraint. Each of the men has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
"These young, stupid kids thought it was perfectly all right to go do that. And that encouragement came right from the coaching staff," Nagy's attorney, Terry Ekl, said Friday. "We're going to put Wheaton College under a microscope and see that they've turned their back on many serious cases of hazing and hold them responsible to a large extent for what happened."
The complaint alleges hazing was an open secret within the football program that was handed down from class to class while Swider and other coaches, trainers and officials looked the other way.
In a written statement released Friday, college officials disputed that claim.
"We take the allegation that any member of our community has been mistreated in any way to be a matter of grave concern," officials said. "We strongly deny that the college has allowed a permissive environment of hazing or violence, and are confident that it will not be found to have legal responsibility. Wheaton College is committed to providing Christ-centered education in a positive environment for every student."
Nevertheless, the suit claims Swider met with the five football players the day after the hazing to concoct and coordinate a narrative to blame the victim, claiming Nagy was a voluntary participant and that no one intended to hurt him.
It says they also "developed a common claim that (Nagy) was exaggerating what occurred ..."
The suit lists several texts and phone calls from Swider and assistant coaches and teammates urging Nagy to return to campus "to resolve this" after Nagy withdrew from school.
"We're focused on the coaching staff and the administration. They're complicit in what happened. It's like a Wheaton College version of the code of silence in the Chicago Police Department," Ekl said. "They know misconduct is going on. They don't do anything about it. They condone it."
Nagy is seeking damages in excess of $50,000 and the cost of his filing the lawsuit.