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Wednesday November 21st, 2018 9:22AM

No officials charged in Arizona football players abuse case

By The Associated Press
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PHOENIX (AP) — Three metro Phoenix high school officials accused of failing to notify authorities of sexual and physical abuse of football players will not be charged with crimes because players who were victimized and their parents were among witnesses who declined to cooperate with investigators, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

Three students were charged last year with crimes stemming from the abuse scandal at Hamilton High school in the suburb of Chandler. But Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said he can't file additional charges because many victims, witnesses or their parents would not cooperate.

"We needed cooperation from parents, and that did not happen," Montgomery said, adding that some parents refused to let authorities speak with their children.

Chandler police last year recommended charges against Principal Ken James, Athletic Director Shawn Rustad and head football Coach Steve Belles because they knew about the abuse allegations but failed to alert authorities.

But without the cooperation of students who were witnesses, prosecutors don't have evidence to prove the abuses occurred and that school officials had a duty to report such alleged abuse, Montgomery said.

Montgomery, who held a community meeting last year to encourage victims and witnesses to come forward, said he was frustrated because he was convinced the allegations were true.

Over the course of a year, at least four players at Hamilton High School were assaulted in a locker room by varsity members of the squad, investigators have said in police reports. One player had his pants and underwear forced down and was spanked on his rear end, authorities have said.

While some players described the conduct as hazing, authorities said some of the attacks were sexual assaults and others were attempted sexual assaults. Some alleged assaults were recorded and posted on social media.

Camille Casteel, superintendent of the Chandler Unified School District, prepared a letter Wednesday informing parents of steps taken to improve student safety, such as requiring more staff supervision to prevent improper conduct by students and training for school employees about requirements to report abuses.

Officers who searched the school last summer had said they found documents and discovered information about the misconduct allegations that should have been turned over to authorities. Among the items seized from James' office was an email with a screen shot of an exchange reportedly between two players about how coaches knew what was going on but did nothing about it.

Authorities also have said Rustad received an anonymous voicemail saying younger football players were being harassed. A police report said the voicemail has been deleted.

At the direction of James, Rustad interviewed four players, including one who says his clothes were removed while he was held down, according to the police reports. Investigators said Rustad relayed the information to Belles and instructed him to address this situation with the team.

Rustad did not notify the parents of the four players who had been interviewed, investigators have said in police records.

The police records said Belles, who led the team to five state championships after becoming head coach in 2006, denied having been contacted by administrators about a phone call or hazing.

Belles also told investigators that he knew nothing about hazing or assaults until he was told by an unknown source that a mother had contacted a police officer who monitored the school.

James, Rustad and Belles were reassigned to other jobs within the school district after the scandal became public.

Jack Wilenchik, an attorney representing Belles, said the "the prosecutor's office is making the right decision" by not pursuing criminal charges and that Belles plans to seek a coaching job in another school district.

Rustad and James did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

Prosecutors have said criminal cases against two of the three students charged have already been resolved in juvenile court, but declined to provide details.

Another student, whose name The Associated Press is withholding because he is a juvenile, still faces child molestation and other charges in adult court.

___

Follow Jacques Billeaud at www.twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/jacques%20billeaud.

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