Carmel students charged; four basketball coaches resign
Noblesville - Four Carmel High School students will face misdemeanor charges related to an investigation into alleged assaults at the school. The students surrendered Monday and were taken to the Hamilton County Jail for booking.
Three coaches who were aboard the bus on January 22nd, the date of one of the alleged incidents, as well as the head basketball coach, have resigned.
Carmel High School issued a "community report" outlining a timeline of events and how they were investigated.
A Hamilton County grand jury indicted the four Carmel High School senior basketball players following four days of sworn testimony about disturbing assaults on board a team bus in January and alleged several locker room incidents as far back as November of last year.
Senior basketball players Robert Kitzinger and Brandon Hoge were charged with misdemeanor counts of battery and criminal recklessness for an incident that occurred on a team bus on January 22.
Kitzinger, 19, is facing two counts each of battery and criminal recklessness for allegedly grabbing, holding and touching three different victims in a rude way. One freshman was held down in the back of the team bus coming home from the January 22 game in Terre Haute. Kitzinger is also accused of assaulting that same student in a locker room.
"We had one group of children who saw things happening and were afraid to intervene because they thought they would be the next target," said Hamilton County Prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp.
Hoge faces two battery charges and one count of criminal recklessness for both the bus incident and teaming up with Kitzinger in two of the same locker room assaults.
"The grand jury on each of the last counts, the Class B misdemeanor battery, all involved the bus incident in Hendricks County," said Leerkamp.
Seniors Oscar Falodun and Scott Laskowski were also indicted on misdemeanor battery and criminal recklessness charges for a January 8 incident in a school locker room. Falodun is facing one charge for battery and two for criminal recklessness. Laskowski faces three misdemeanor charges of criminal recklessness.
Bond for Kitzinger, Hoge and Falodun was set at $5,000, while Laskowski's bond is $3,000. He was not charged in the bus incident in Hendricks County.
Leerkamp said there was one victim on the bus and two victims in the locker room incident.
Hendricks County Prosecutor Pat Baldwin said the age of the victims and witnesses played a role in the length of the investigation.
"I think anytime you have children involved, it's natural," she said. "And I don't care if you're talking about someone that's been caught shoplifting at Kohl's, or someone that's being molested by their stepfather. There's a huge reluctance for children to come forward."
Prosecutors refused to release specific details about the alleged incidents and defended the police department's handling of the cases, even after the high school principal confirmed that police initially told them to handle the case and found no reason to open an investigation.
Many times, things change, things become clearer as time goes on," said Assistant Police Chief Tim Green.
While she would not comment on the content of a surveillance tape from the school bus, Leerkamp said what may have started out as horseplay reached an "unacceptable level."
"I would say it went beyond hazing. They crossed a line," said Leerkamp. "You put a bunch of boys together and you just know things are going to happen, especially if there is not appropriate adult supervision and rules followed."
13 Investigates broke the case of the criminal investigation days later, after one of the boys was taken to the hospital and a nurse reported the case to Child Protective Services.
The grand jury came back with no recommendation of charges against the coaches, who were seen on the video sitting on the bus, but no further information was provided on their actions.
Class A misdemeanors can carry up to a year of jail time, while a Class B misdemeanor could mean up to 180 days in jail. Both charges could bring fines up to $5,000.
"I feel very confident in what the grand jury came back with and we will deal with what happened in our county appropriately," Baldwin said. "The charges don't surprise me at all. You look at what the witnesses said and I think the grand jury did an excellent job."
Leerkamp said the prosecutor's office interviewed more than 56 witnesses in 12 days during the investigation. Five different charges were presented to the grand jury for consideration.
"I was not doing the grand jury with the thought that I was then going to take it away from them and determine myself what the charges would be," she said.
The four athletes were suspended in mid-February after the allegations came to light. But Leerkamp doesn't believe the charges will affect their academic status.
"It is my understanding that arrangements have been made for them to graduate," she said.
Leerkamp also praised the school district's handling of the investigation, saying she had "total respect" for how they dealt with the case.
"I think they need to change some policies. I have no authority over anything else happening to them," she said.
The Carmel Clay School Board will vote Monday night on a revised anti-hazing policy for the district in light of the investigation.
Advocates for victims of crime and abuse said the Carmel case illustrates that children need to be taught boundaries and respect for others.
"Regardless of the circumstance, the violence and abuse were not your fault," said Loretta Moore-Sutherland with Prevail. "No one has the right to touch or talk to you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable."
Victim's attorney speaks
Attorney Robert Turner, the former public safety director for the city of Indianapolis, is representing the family of one of the victims in the case. After the charges were announced, he said justice delayed is justice denied.
"From the very beginning, it was our position that we didn't want to destroy these young men. That is not what we were trying to do. I understand what can happen with people being labeled, branded, put on watch lists convicted of felonies. I think children deserve an opportunity to be rehabilitated, at least live a positive life, so we felt the failure was on the part of the school system, although we never believed this was simple hazing," Turner said. "Although hazing of itself can be criminal, this was simply not hazing. We wanted to make sure it was looked at and not minimized as it appeared to be in the beginning from statements made by the school."
A 35-year law enforcement veteran, Turner said he could have investigated the preliminary allegations and made arrests in the case in one day.
Coach interviews in Lafayette
Eyewitness News has learned that Carmel head basketball coach Mark Galloway has interviewed for the Lafayette Jefferson boys' basketball coaching job. However, that school has not extended an offer for the position.
Carmel school officials say Galloway has resigned as head coach. The three coaches riding on the freshman bus on January 22, Justin Blanding, Brandon Lafferman and Michael Bennett, have also resigned.