The Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations is looking into allegations of hazing among Milton High School football players, Superintendent John Barone told the Milton Independent last week.
Chittenden County State’s Attorney TJ Donovan confirmed there is an investigation at the high school by CUSI, a multi-agency taskforce that responds to sexual assault and child abuse cases. He would not elaborate on the allegations that drove the inquiry but said the incidents in question happened 18 months ago.
Asked about pending criminal charges, Donovan only said the investigation is ongoing. CUSI Director Michael Warren, a sergeant with the Burlington Police Department, said he’s unsure if charges will be filed.
“I’m not sure if we know what, if any, charges will be brought yet,” Warren said. “We’re still putting information together and making decisions.”
Warren said CUSI was notified of the allegations in April; usually CUSI cases are referred through the local police agency, but no report was made with Milton police, Chief Brett Van Noordt said. Milton PD will pay CUSI about $15,600 this year to investigate these specialized crimes, he said.
Barone said CUSI detectives approached school officials in May and asked for a copy of the fall 2012 football roster. There were 32 players that year, including 13 juniors and seniors, and the rest underclassmen, the roster shows.
Detectives met with Barone and principals Anne Blake and Scott Thompson separately and have interviewed football players, Barone said.
Hazing, defined in both board policy and state law, refers to intimidating, demeaning or endangering students to pledge, initiate or maintain their membership with a group, actively and passively, on or off school grounds.
“Certainly if and when the investigation is concluded … the district will take whatever steps we need to take.”
— Supt. John Barone
Barone said he doesn’t know where the alleged incidents occurred, how many times or the number of perpetrators or victims. He said CUSI would be in touch when and if they confirmed the allegations.
Barone said the recent departures of MHS Football Coach Chris Hughes and Athletic Director Joe Solomon – in March and July, respectively – had nothing to do with this case.
“I don’t want anyone to think [Joe] was forced to retire,” Barone said.
Solomon said he’s wanted to quit the part-time AD post for the past three years. He declined comment on the open investigation.
Hughes also wouldn’t answer questions about the case but said he was unaware of the allegations during his tenure, which began in the early ’90s.
“Not at all,” Hughes said. “My leaving had zero to do with this whole process.”
Barone also said Blake’s upcoming leave this fall is unrelated and is medical in nature. He added no staff or students have been disciplined yet, as the investigation is ongoing.
Barone said he’s talked with new coach Drew Gordon, who has moved forward with setting the practice schedule for this fall. Without names or validation from the police, the district has nothing to go on, Barone said.
“Certainly if and when the investigation is concluded, and depending on what we find out, the district will take whatever steps we need to take,” he said.
According to the policy, adopted by the school board in 2005, the district informs students, coaches, parents and guardians of the anti-hazing rules before athletics begin.
The policy says the district can take disciplinary actions against individual hazers or entire athletic teams, up to expulsion or cancellation of games, an athletic season or the sport altogether.
Barone and Board Chairwoman Mary Knight said the district has very little information about the investigation.
“We have not been able to verify exactly who may have been involved or know anything about it,” she said. “We’re kind of waiting for the investigation to finish, and then we’ll act appropriately.
“We’re taking it seriously,” she continued. “We’re also concerned community members. We will continue to take it seriously and act upon it as we see appropriate.”
Warren said CUSI hopes to wrap up the case as soon as possible, but it has proven time consuming.
“Because of the number of interviews that have been conducted and just putting together the information, it’s taken quite a long time,” he said, not elaborating on that number.
He acknowledged that rumors abound.
“We’ve heard lots of them,” Warren said. “A lot of people know about this investigation. … People are curious and have questions and want answers. Unfortunately, we’re just not in a spot where we can give those yet.”
Editor’s note: The Milton Independent broke this story online on Thursday, July 24. It has since been updated to reflect further interviews.