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article imageSeven NJ high school football players charged in hazing scandal

By Megan Hamilton     Oct 13, 2014 in Crime
Sayreville - Seven high school football players have been arrested in connection with a hazing scandal and three of the players have been charged with sex crimes for alleged assaults on younger team members last month, prosecutors said.
Six defendants were arrested Friday night by investigators from the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office and the Sayreville Police Department, according to a statement released by prosecutor Andrew Carey. A seventh defendant surrendered to police on Saturday morning, reported The Los Angeles Times.
Abuse by the Sayreville War Memorial High School students was so extensive that the school's superintendent said he had no choice but to cancel the season for a team that's garnered three sectional titles in the last four years. Team parents were angry about this, but his decision was hailed by advocates who said it was the kind of bold stand necessary for confronting hazing, Fox News reports.
It's reported that the allegations involved attacks on four students over a period of 10 days last month, according to authorities. One attack involved sexual penetration on one of the alleged victims, Carey said.
Superintendent Richard Labbe said in a statement that the district will "come together as a school and greater community to harness the strength required to support the young men who way have been victimized and then to begin the healing process for our beloved community," Fox News reports.
Many people in Sayreville were shocked by the allegations because the football team is a point of pride, The Christian Science Monitor reports. One freshman football player said it was routine for a group of seniors on the team to turn off the lights, pin down a freshman, then violate him with a finger as a form of hazing. Other freshman have confirmed the allegations, reports say. Other freshman say they were unaware of the practices.
A vigil was held on Sunday evening at a local park, and the organizer of the event said she hopes this can serve to unite a town that is now divided.
"What I am hoping for is that everyone comes together," Maureen Jenkins, who's a local resident, told MyCentralJersey.com.
"There is so much collateral damage, and that's for every kid in that school who has to live with this black cloud over their head," Jenkins said. "As a community, we need to come together to help support the victims."
Labbe's decision brought national scrutiny to the school and has divided the community as players and their parents angrily protested the move during a schoolboard meeting earlier in the week.
Sal Mistretta, former Sayreville football coach, who was instrumental in making the program one of the state's most successful, said that since charges have been filed, any ambiguity towards the allegations should be eliminated.
"I think this dismisses any kind of doubt whether this was formal locker-room behavior as some people have been saying," he noted, per MyCentralJersey.com. "I think this cements the severity of the crime and the fact that this is something some people have been minimizing. Hopefully, they now realize that the program had to be shut down or that drastic measures had to be taken, and the superintendent did the right thing."
Carey said that three of the players are charged with the following: Aggravated sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual contact, conspiracy to commit aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal restraint, and hazing for engaging in an act of sexual penetration upon one of the victims. One of the players, along with the remaining four teammates were charged with several other counts including aggravated assault, conspiracy, aggravated criminal sexual contact, hazing and riot by participating in the attack on the remaining victims, Carey added.
"It's rape," attorney Ray Gill told MyCentralJersey.com. Gill is scheduled to meet with the family of one victim next week.
The complaints allege that on several occasions between Sept. 19 and Sept. 29 one or more players held the victims against their will, while others improperly touched the victims in a sexual manner. It is also alleged that one of the victims was kicked during an attack.
It's possible that the teenagers involved could be tried as adults because aggravated sexual assault is a first-degree criminal offense, legal experts told MyCentralJersey.com. Some of those charged could face as much as five years in prison if convicted.
George Najjar, Sayreville head football coach has declined comment so far, per Fox News. MyCentralJersey.com has noted that Najjar, as well as his assistant coaches are responsible for the supervising the players inside the locker room.
The situation has drawn criticism from some politicians.
"There has to be some consequences for this type of repulsive event," Patrick Diegnan, (D-Middlesex) told MyCentralJersey.com. Diegnan chairs the Assembly's Education Committee. "At best, it's a lack of attention on their part. At worst, it's malfeasance. Either way, there has to be accountability."
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has also weighed in, The Los Angeles Times reports. Talking to reporters on Thursday, he said the allegations were "extraordinarily disturbing."
"If these facts as alleged are true, then this is a nightmare for the parents of those young men and it tells us something about the attitude that was allowed to pervade in that program," he said.
The defendants, whose names have not been released, are scheduled to appear in family court in New Jersey, although a hearing date hasn't been set. Criminal complaints against juveniles are not public record, the Times reports.
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