Chittenden County State's Attorney TJ Donovan addresses reporters after five former Yellowjackets were arraigned on assault charges last month. Donovan's team will attend MHS for a forum on the case. (Photo by Courtney Lamdin)

Chittenden County State’s Attorney TJ Donovan addresses reporters after five former Yellowjackets were arraigned on assault charges last month. Donovan’s team will attend MHS for a forum on the case. (Photo by Courtney Lamdin)

The public will have a chance to question the team who investigated allegations of sexual assault and hazing on the Milton High School football team next month.

In a rare move, State’s Attorney TJ Donovan will come to MHS on October 2 to dialogue about the case, which has divided the community, School Board Chairwoman Mary Knight said.

“I don’t do it often,” Donovan said, “so if it’s a case that’s important that’s affecting a community, I think it’s incumbent on us to speak directly to the community, to be as transparent as we can about what occurred and the decision we made and the reasons for those decisions.”

Donovan and the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations charged five former players with simple assault last month following allegations they sodomized teammates with wooden objects as an initiation.

CUSI Director Michael Warren, a Burlington police sergeant, and Deputy State’s Attorney Mary Morrissey will accompany Donovan. Knight was unsure which administrators would be present, but a school board quorum will likely be in attendance, she said.

The forum will hopefully address unanswered questions raised at the School Board’s well-attended Sept. 8 meeting, Knight said, particularly if administrators knew about the serious allegations, and when.

None of Milton’s administrators were charged for failing to report child abuse, despite accounts in police affidavits that indicate school staff had reported the allegations up the command chain.

Superintendent John Barone has said officials only heard about minor misconduct at the blockhouse, the football team’s locker room, otherwise they’d have notified the Vt. Department for Children and Families.

A majority of school board members were at first content without delving into whether policies were followed, but after community pressure and Board Clerk Karen LaFond leading the charge, agreed to hire an independent investigator [read more on this in the story at left, beginning on page 1.]

Knight also hopes the forum addresses how Donovan’s team arrived at the misdemeanor charge given the allegations’ sexual nature. Knight said the result puzzled her, too.

If you go
Milton Football Hazing Forum
Thursday, Oct. 2, 6 – 7:30 p.m.
Milton High School library

“There’s definitely some anger, some confusion, some frustration. There is some support out there as well,” Knight said of the community’s reactions. “Emotions on all sides are really high right now, and I hope we can answer the questions and make things better in the community.”

Donovan thinks the charge was appropriate and noted the mandatory reporting law is “complicated and complex,” and it would have been “a disservice to prosecute when we’re not going to be able to prevail,” he said at court last week.

“I look forward to listening to the input from victims and community, but we’re going to make the decision we think is fair, balance and just,” Donovan said.

Asked if the forum feedback will inform the case, Donovan said his office will ultimately decide how to resolve it, but he’s always willing to listen.

A part of the meeting will also be dedicated to moving forward and what the district can do to prevent future incidents. Knight welcomes that advice and encourages the community to come out.

“It would be good for anybody who is willing to get a better understanding of this and how it happened and what we can do to prevent it so we can all work together,” she said.

As for the court case, the five former students had a calendar call last week, during which their attorneys met with Donovan’s staff. Donovan said his team hasn’t made any plea offers, so the case continues. The parties will reconvene in October.

Editor’s note: Since the print version of this story was published, the school district changed the forum location to the MHS library. The time remains the same. The story above has been edited to reflect the changes.