Attorneys for the former Main West High School soccer coach facing criminal charges after players on his team were allegedly hazed last month say he did nothing wrong.
Michael Divincenzo appeared at the Cook County courthouse in Skokie Monday for the first time since he was charged in May and his attorneys are questioning whether the alleged hazing leading to the charges even happened.
Divincenzo, 37, was charged May 15 with one count of hazing, three counts of battery and four counts of failure to report abuse as mandated, all Class A misdemeanors.
An investigation by the Cook County State's Attorney's Office and Des Plaines Police determined that the alleged incidents occurred between June 1, 2012 and September 26, 2012 and involved four male student athletes on the soccer team who were bullied, hazed and assaulted by other male students on the team.
Prosecutors say several players were attacked by older members of the team, including forcibly removing their shorts or pants and poking them in the buttocks with their hands and other objects.
Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez says the incidents occurred under Divincenzo's supervision and, in some cases, under his direction.
But defense attorney Tom Breen said Monday he’s not certain the hazing events even happened and if they did, Divincenzo was not present.
“What occurred has been exaggerated to the point of almost disbelief,” he said. “As far as hazing is concerned I don’t think there was hazing, or at least it wasn’t brought to [Divincenzo's] attention.”
Breen claimed that since the incident resulted in the loss of Divincenzo's job and coaching career, he is “lost.”
“We really need to take the hype out of the case because I know it has generated a great deal of interest and concern and all that,” Breen said. “In the end you’re going to find out he’s a very, very good coach, a very good person. He had nothing to do with whatever might have occurred way beyond his observation.”
Prosecutors, however, claim to have 10,000 pages of paperwork and video supporting the charges, and defense attorneys began making arrangements in court to gain access to those documents.
“We’re not making any comment on him being a good coach or not, however these are minors and they look up to adults to know and to believe what the right thing is and in this case he didn’t do the right thing in our opinion,” said Rebekah Williams, a lawyer for four of the victims suing Divincenzo.
The next court date is scheduled to take place Aug. 7.