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Judge dismisses 3 claims in suit over Arizona hazing scandal

August 23, 2018

PHOENIX (AP) — A judge has dismissed portions of a lawsuit over a scandal at a high school in metro Phoenix where five football players said they were physically and sexually abused by older teammates in hazing rituals.

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton on Tuesday threw out three claims that school officials violated the due-process rights of the players in question by failing to protect them or adequately respond to the alleged abuse at Hamilton High School in Chandler. The judge agreed with lawyers for the school district in ruling that school officials had no federal constitutional duty to protect the players.

The dismissal of the three claims doesn’t sink the entire lawsuit, which alleges school officials knew about the hazing rituals but did nothing to stop it or punish the attackers. The remaining claims allege a violation of federal civil rights law by creating a sexually hostile education environment and several breaches of state law, such as failing to protect the students.

Police have previously said at least four players were assaulted in a locker room by varsity members of the team over a 16-month period ending in February 2017. They said one player had his pants and underwear forced down and was spanked on the rear end.

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

Three students were criminally charged in the scandal, but prosecutors declined to file charges against three school employees who were accused of failing to notify authorities of the alleged abuse. Prosecutors have said they couldn’t file additional charges because many victims, witnesses or their parents wouldn’t cooperate with investigators.

In dismissing the three legal claims, Bolton said a failure to protect a person against such alleged abuse isn’t a violation of due-process rights, though there’s an exception to this rule if it can be shown that officials put people in a known danger by acting with deliberate indifference.

Bolton said the lawyer representing the students alleged indifference but didn’t include in his argument that officials were responsible for the creation of the danger.

“Defendants had no federal constitutional duty to protect (the) minor plaintiffs, even from a known danger like that alleged here,” Bolton wrote.

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Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at https://bit.ly/2GGWEPO.

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