County attorney thinks there are more Hamilton High hazing victims

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Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery is convinced there are more victims who were sexually abused in the Hamilton High School hazing scandal. The obstacle to getting at those underclassman football players, according to Montgomery, is their parents.

“We've had a lack of cooperation and for whatever the reason, whatever the reason may be, it's not a good reason. And so, we need those parents to help, to help their kids and help this investigation,” said Montgomery Wednesday morning at a news conference.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Hamilton High Hazing Case]

On Tuesday night, Montgomery held a community meeting in cooperation with the Chandler Police Department for parents and anyone associated with Hamilton High School. Montgomery’s goal for that community meeting, which was attended by fewer than two dozen parents, was to reach out to parents and beg them to cooperate with the investigation and allow their kids to be interviewed.

“They're not helping their kids by facilitating silence, by presuming that somehow participation in the investigative process might have a negative impact on scholarship opportunities or a future football career. That is incredibly misguided and shortsighted. What's more important is the health of their kids, physically as well as mentally and emotionally,” said Montgomery.

Six victims have already come forward and are cooperating with police. They claim they were abused by teammates in the locker room at Hamilton. Montgomery believes there are more victims who have yet to come forward and others who are witnesses.

“I know from the reviewing the investigation done to this point that there are other victims. I want them identified. I want them to come forward. We have trained professionals. Law enforcement is specifically trained on how to help victims in these circumstances. We want them identified so that we can get them needed services and so that we can understand and begin to review the entire scope of conduct in question,” said Montgomery.

Nearly eight months after Chandler police launched the investigation into allegations of sexual abuse and hazing within Hamilton’s football program, Montgomery says he is still not ready to make a charging decision against the school administrators linked to the case.

“If I made a charging decision today, I know I would be making a decision that would effect fewer victims that I believe exists and it would also be limited to the scope of conduct that's been investigated to this point for our review when there could be more instances for us to consider in bringing charges,” said Montgomery.

The Hamilton High football program is top ranked in the state and has garnered more than a half dozen 5A State Championship titles over the years. 

But Montgomery does not believe the culture of protect the football program at the cost of the kids should be the concern of parents. But he believes that is in part, why some parents are not coming forward and allowing their kids to be interviewed by investigators.

“I think it could be not understanding the process, being fearful for their kids and some, maybe having concerns about what the consequences could be for their kids with respect to scholarships or their football career. And I think it would be better advised for parents to elevate what they're thinking about and consider the long term consequences to their kids,” said Montgomery.

Chandler investigators have turned their report over to the county attorney’s office who during Wednesday’s news conference said there was not only a possibility of more victims but of more suspects, both adult and juvenile.

“There could be some individuals who have that idea that it may be more important to protect the football program at this point than to facilitate the investigation and identification of victims. I think that the better course of conduct here to protect the integrity of that football program is to help us address the scope of conduct that occurred, to facilitate help for the victims and then be able to help that program continue onward,” said Montgomery.

At Tuesday night’s community meeting, Montgomery handed out a parent information sheet to help guide talks with their kids about issues of sexual abuse and the hazing they may have witnessed or been involved in.

“It's a proud football program. Look, there are players and coaches who have participated in that program who have helped that high school win championships. Helping us address these allegations takes nothing away from any of that. There should be no shame associated with helping us address wrong doing, just as there should be every point of pride of the accomplishments of that program by players that precede any of this and certainly on behalf of players that had nothing to do with this,” said Montgomery.

The lack of parent cooperation has aggravated prosecutors who want to gather as much information as possible before bringing formal charges against the school staff under investigation.

“Facilitating silence, pretending that by not saying anything you can wait out the storm, well, that's just not true. Law enforcement is committed to addressing this situation as best we can and so it would be far better for people who have that first hand association with the program to help resolve it,” said Montgomery.

There is also concern among prosecutors and police that there are kids who may have experienced or witnessed trauma who need psychological help.

“There are kids who are going to need help and when you suffer trauma of this sort, again, whether it’s because you're directly involved or secondary trauma, if it goes unrecognized, untreated, it can manifest in a whole host of ways and I don't want those kids to struggle needlessly. We stand ready and willing to help. I have an entire fund that can be used of several hundred thousand dollars to help kids in exactly this kind of situation,” said Montgomery.

As for the culture of guarding the football program at all cost, Montgomery said in his days of the military and participating in team sports, what he’s seen at Hamilton would have never been tolerated.

“This is an extreme situation of people thinking that loyalty to the team necessitates not saying anything. No. That's a gross misunderstanding of what loyalty is and of looking out for your team and your teammates is all about. You don't tolerate people harming teammates. It's a misunderstanding of what that culture of team really is meant to instill in young men,” said Montgomery.

The challenge for investigators is that they need parental approval and cooperation to interview minors. And they have not been receiving that cooperation.

“We can't just go out and grab juveniles and take them down to a station and try to interview them. We need their parents to assist.  I need parents to assist and to cooperate in the investigation. That's one of the reasons why I'm having to reach out the way we are now is to encourage them to actually help and facilitate in questioning the kids in getting the information,” said Montgomery.

As for a timeline for filing formal charges, Montgomery said the statute of limitations on the crimes they are looking at is seven years.

“We will make a charging decision once we're confident we have all the information that we're going to be able to get and that we have the entirety of alleged conduct before us that we can assess with all the constitutionally admissible evidence that we have,” said Montgomery.

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