A lawsuit has been filed against a suburban school district Wednesday following a high school football hazing scandal that sent shockwaves through the community.
The suit reveals for the first time details on what is alleged to have happened inside a Lake Zurich High School locker room last October, sparking investigations from the district, law enforcement and other agencies.
It was filed by lawyers representing the parents of two students said to be victims in the hazing incident.
The suit alleges the district, school officials and coaches allowed “acts of hazing and bullying to occur within the team locker room, including forcing teammates to strip naked and forced un-consensual sexual assault.”
On the night of Oct. 27, 2016, varsity football players had just finished their weekly team pasta dinner and were in the school locker room when a private security officer doing building check rounds at the school entered the room and saw some players “engaged in inappropriate behavior,” according to an investigation report from the district’s outside law firm. Several other players who were not directly involved were also “indirectly participating, watching or aware,” the report states.
Despite school policy requiring supervision of locker rooms, no staff member was present when the students went to get their belongings following the pasta dinner.
The security guard reported the incident to his supervisor the next morning and that supervisor notified a school administrator.
On Monday, the school administrator began an investigation into the incident, interviewing football players and informing the Lake Zurich Police Department, the athletic director, the principal and an assistant principal, according to the report. The administrator also made a report to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
According to the district, a police investigation found there was “insufficient evidence of a crime” and dropped their investigation into the matter. DCFS did conduct its own investigation but had not yet reported its findings to the district.
Days later, the football team was expected to play in a playoff game against Fenwick High School, leaving staff and team leadership to make a decision on whether or not they would forfeit the match.
Ultimately, the school allowed the players to participate in the playoff game, if they agreed to sign a “behavior agreement,” take anti-hazing training and do community service, according to the report.
The head football coach and assistant football coach were both placed on paid leave pending the conclusion of the district’s investigation. Both coaches and the school’s athletic director have since resigned.
“There was also serious concern that forfeiture would result in vilification of certain students through the public, community and media scrutiny, especially social media, which is sometimes inaccurate and unfair,” the report states. “There was at all times an awareness that these were minors and that there was a duty as educators to consider the long term well-being of all of the students involved, while also taking an unequivocal position against hazing.”
The lawsuit claims the alleged bullying “was part of longstanding and prevalent hazing rituals and traditions of the Lake Zurich football team extending as far back as 1997.”
The report from the district’s law firm did reveal that the October incident followed weekly meetings in which players “roasted” one another by “trading insults and dares.”
“By the accounts of multiple varsity team members, the behavior escalated over the season,” the report states. “Players’ direct involvement, or at least silent knowledge, was found to be widespread, yet no varsity team member had come forward.”
Despite other reported incidents of misconduct surrounding the football locker room, officials said the Oct. 27 incident was "isolated in the seriousness of its character.”
“The emotional and physical abuse that these current and former student athletes were forced to endure is unspeakable,” Attorney Antonio Romanucci from Romanucci & Blandin said in a statement. “These inappropriate acts were clearly done without an understanding by the students of the long-term effects and ramification that would ensue. Equally as disturbing is the lack of oversight by the football team’s coaches and the school administrators who turned a blind eye and ignored established policies and principles against hazing and bullying.”
The school has since implemented a locker room supervision schedule, locking the room when it is not being used, and a mandatory anti-hazing presentation for varsity football players and their parents.
The district said it would not comment publicly on pending litigation.
"The District is committed to creating a positive culture that does not tolerate hazing of any kind," its statement read. "Our focus will be looking forward. Our own attorney has conducted an internal investigation and made 13 recommendations regarding how we can address hazing proactively and implementation of these recommendations has already started. Additionally, the administration has instituted other measures not outlined in the report."
The lawsuit seeks a minimum of $50,000 in damages related to "psychological injuries" for each family.