By Caleigh Sturgeon, Managing Web Editor
In July, 2016, The Spoke published an article on its website, Spoke.news, revealing the timeline of the case and information obtained from the Chester County Court of Common Pleas. That piece is available here: http://spoke.news/sodomy-allegation-followed-victims-residency-dispute-with-tesd/
On Tuesday, Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan dropped sodomy charges against three former senior Conestoga High School varsity football players. The three admitted to the summary offense of harassment—a violation that can be expunged from the players’ criminal records after five years without a new conviction. Sodomy was the most serious of the March 4, 2016 charges in the hazing case, which Hogan announced at a press conference. Other counts included unlawful restraint, conspiracy, terroristic threats and assault.
But all were dismissed.
An unusual joint statement signed by Hogan and the defense attorneys, states that the three players shoved and briefly held down a freshman player who refused to clean the locker room.
On March 4, Hogan declared that the events in the locker room were clear and factual.
“This is a simple case about ignorance, violence and a shocking lack of supervision,” Hogan said.
But now, he agreed only that “one of the charged juveniles briefly poked the victim with a broom stick in the leg.” The parties decided that the accused did not intend to inflict any physical harm, and the freshman was not injured.
On the other hand, the consequences for the Conestoga community were evident. The three seniors graduated with the case looming. Head coach John Vogan resigned after being suspended from coaching duties, and the rest of the varsity football coaching staff was suspended for one year.
In the 10 months since the sensational charges were revealed, it became known that the victim in the case himself was charged with the juvenile offense of sharing sexually explicit images in the spring of 2015. In the coming November, the Tredyffrin Easttown School District held an expulsion hearing, but rather than expelling the “sexting” offender, TESD agreed to pay for his alternate schooling worth twice the cost of Conestoga. However, on Jan. 28, a TESD hearing officer determined that the freshman had not been a resident of the district since March 5, 2015. After his whereabouts were determined, the school district notified his father that he was responsible for paying back over $13,000 in tuition for his son’s enrollment in Conestoga and a private school.
Within the next week, by Feb. 5, the father reported to TESD that his son was sodomized with a broomstick by three senior varsity football players back on Oct. 15. Then, about two weeks later, the father sued the school district in an effort to halt the monetary collection resulting from the residency dispute. The hearing concerning this sum was supposed to be held on March 4—the day Hogan announced the sodomy charges in the press conference.
The Chester County Court of Common Pleas ruled that TESD could not collect from the victim and his father last summer.
This week, Hogan declined to comment to The Spoke about the outcome of the case, citing rules governing the juvenile case.
Hogan’s original announcement drew national attention to the school district. Last spring, NBC10, 6ABC and The Philadelphia Inquirer, among others, published articles covering the case. Other publications, like the New York Times, took the opportunity to offer commentary about hazing at high schools, specifically at Conestoga.
The joint statement concluded by saying, “The victim, the charged juveniles, and their respective families all would like the opportunity to move on with their lives,” and that, “We all hope never to see an incident like this in Chester County again.”
After a year of criminal trials, newspaper articles and court hearings, charges were dropped in what North Carolina’s Attorney General Roy Cooper ended up calling a “tragic rush to accuse.” Many reporters, prosecutors and officials apologized, and Duke University’s lacrosse team more-or-less returned to its paramount status. It has been over 10 years since discredited rape allegations disparaged Duke Lacrosse, leaving the program suspended, a long-time beloved coach exiled and three players’ reputations defamed.
In a cover story published on May 4, 2016, The Spoke compared the football team’s hazing allegations to the case concerning Duke University, writing, “this situation might simply remain as a bad memory for those in Durham, but for some in Berwyn the experience of sensational charges and a divided community are present today. And in Conestoga’s case, a resolution is not in sight.” Now, nearly a year later, a resolution—drastically different from the initial charges—has finally been reached.
Caleigh Sturgeon can be reached at email@example.com.
Photo by Neil Goldenthal, Co-Sports Editor.