Rock Hill, Fort Mill, York SC Accidents and Injuries Legal Blog

Thursday, March 1, 2012



2 lawsuits filed over alleged Clover High football hazings



After several Clover High School junior varsity football players were bullied, beaten and hazed by older players in a locker room, school employees helped the attackers cover up what happened, according to lawsuits filed by two of the victims' families.

The assaults were part of "a long tradition of upperclassmen hazing younger members of the varsity and junior varsity football team," the suits say.

Rather than follow the law and immediately involve police, school employees investigated on their own, says the lawsuit, filed by Lexington attorney Richard Breibart.

Statements by upperclassmen during that investigation corroborated the victims' accusations, according to the suits. But when talking to sheriff's investigators, the upperclassmen changed their accounts "to lessen their involvement and minimize the extent of the incident."

"Defendants engaged in a massive cover-up to conceal the true events that occurred," the suits allege. They add "the school district and school employees 'coached' the upperclassmen and other students to downplay or deny the incident."

The lawsuits do not identify which defendants were allegedly involved in covering up the events.

Clover schools spokesman Mychal Frost declined to comment on the suits.

The suits, filed in federal civil court Wednesday, add a new twist to a controversial case that gripped Clover's school community last fall, when 13 players were suspended amid allegations that three players - ages 14, 15, and 17 - were hazed.

The incidents took place on three separate days in September at the end of the school day in the varsity football locker room before practice.

When the York County Sheriff's Office began investigating on Oct. 6, school leaders said they heard rumors that at least one student was sexually assaulted with a broom.

On Nov. 3, after the investigation, Solicitor Kevin Brackett and York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant dismissed the allegations as mere "horse play."

Brackett later told The Herald that what happened in the locker room wasn't clear.

"What exactly was done with (the broom) couldn't be established beyond a reasonable doubt," he said.

"It was not enough to justify going with charges.

"The clear impression we were left with is it was horsing around."

The families of two of the victims - the 14-year-old and the 17-year-old - are suing more than 20 defendants, including all seven school board members, Superintendent Marc Sosne, Clover High Principal Mark Hopkins, head football coach John Devine and several alleged student attackers.

The victims accuse the school district of gross negligence, civil conspiracy, violating the teens' constitutional rights and the Safe Schools Climate Act, and intentionally inflicting emotional distress.

They're suing the alleged attackers for negligence, assault and battery.

The victims' parents, identified as John and Rosetta McCrorey and Yelanda McCray, seek a jury trial. They say their children have suffered physical, emotional and psychological pain as well as fright, shock and "loss of enjoyment of life."

McCray's suit says varsity players restrained her 17-year-old son on Sept. 21, pulled down his pants "and attempted to, and in fact did, physically assault and batter (him) with a broom stick."

Classmates relentless taunts and teasing the following weeks traumatized him to the point he transferred schools, the suit says.

After the criminal investigation last year, Brackett, the 16th Circuit solicitor, declined to file charges, saying the victim's credibility influenced his decision.

The 17-year-old initially told detectives he was outside the varsity football locker room drinking Gatorade when several players grabbed him, forced him into the locker room, and tried to sexually assault him with a broom, according to York County Sheriff's Office investigation records.

Detectives, however, couldn't find witnesses to corroborate his account.

And in a follow-up interview, the student changed his story to say he was already in the locker room when players grabbed him, according to the records.

The McCroreys' suit says their 14-year-old son was grabbed by older players on Sept. 30 and carried into the locker room.

Sheriff's investigation records obtained by The Herald show that the 14-year-old told investigators the incident started when a varsity player snatched his book bag that afternoon while a substitute teacher was in charge of coach Devine's weightlifting class.

As the 14-year-old chased the student to get the bag back, players picked him up and carried him down the stairs to the varsity locker room.

They carried him to the shower and dropped him on the floor. The freshman said he covered his face and head as students punched and kicked him.

"Someone was pulling on my pants, but I held them up," he told detectives.

They continued until someone yelled, "Coach is coming."

Witness accounts to investigators about what happened that day varied.

One witness said he saw players carry the freshman into the shower and drop him, but not hit him.

Another player said the students who grabbed the underclassmen were just giving him "little love taps."

Another student said he saw "a bunch of people bullying" the 14-year-old.

The varsity player identified as the instigator in the incident told investigators that other students picked the freshman up then dropped him.

Of the three incidents, Brackett, the solicitor, has said the 14-year-old's was the only one in which he believed someone could have been charged.

But Brackett said he didn't because the student told investigators he didn't want to press charges.

"If he wanted to press charges, we probably would have," Brackett told the Herald in December.

"In a case like this, where there are allegations of simple assault with only one victim ... I'm not going to force that guy to go to court."

Brackett on Wednesday stood by his decision, but declined to discuss the lawsuits.

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