High school soccer players accused of hazing, sexual assault
LA PUENTE, California (CNN) — Three teenage soccer players have accused teammates at a Los Angeles-area high school of luring them into a ritual of hazing and sexual assault to initiate them into the varsity soccer team.
The soccer coach is also under investigation for possible involvement, a sheriff's department spokesman said.
The alleged victims' attorney, Brian Claypool, described the allegations in graphic detail, saying the boys -- as young as 14 -- were allegedly escorted into a room near the office of the varsity soccer coach, forced to disrobe and subjected to physical assaults with what he said was likely the end part of a javelin.
"This has been taking place for at least two years, possibly longer," the attorney said.
The alleged abuse at La Puente High School has shaken parents and residents in the community, located about 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
Parents arrived on campus Monday to vent their frustration and demand answers. They displayed signs and banners, calling for school officials to be held accountable if the allegations prove true.
Manuel Maldonado, a father, questioned why parents weren't notified earlier about the alleged abuse.
"Where was the supervision?" he demanded.
School officials told reporters Monday that they are cooperating with law enforcement and have taken immediate steps to determine whether any policies were violated.
"As a mother I feel very bad. You do not expect something like this, especially for it to happen at school," said the mother of one of the alleged victims, who said her son has not wanted to return to school since the incident.
The coach of the boys' soccer team has been placed on administrative leave, said Barbara Nakaoka, superintendent of Hacienda La Puente Unified School District. Nakaoka declined to identify the coach.
"This is deeply disturbing to me and the entire community," Nakaoka said. "We do not and will not turn a blind eye to reports of harassment or hazing."
Four people were cited and could face charges, pending a review by the Los Angeles district attorney, said Sgt. Dan Scott, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Special Victims Unit.
Three of the four are minors, and one has since turned 18, according to Scott. He did not identify them.
"We believe there was hazing and assault, but no teachers or faculty members are believed to be involved," Scott said. He said authorities conducted interviews with more than 70 boys at the high school, but noted that the investigation is ongoing.
Sheriff's officials were notified of the accusations about two weeks ago, following a complaint from the mother of one the alleged victims.
"We are looking at all sports because the allegations of assault occurred over a few years, and there are multiple allegations," Scott said.
Claypool, the attorney, said a fourth student was escorted into a room by his soccer coach in early May but managed to fight off his alleged attackers.
"He thought he was fighting for his life. He was terrified to a point where he was going to die," Claypool said.
"When he was trying to walk out of this room, guess who he saw standing right outside the door? The teacher," Claypool said, referring to the teacher who also serves as the soccer coach.
"He saw one of the boys who was initiating this thing wink at the teacher," the attorney said. "That proves in our mind that this teacher not only knew what was going on in this room, but he encouraged these boys to carry out this act."
Claypool said he has not reviewed any medical records or other potential physical evidence to corroborate the injuries suffered by the alleged victims, but insists their stories are credible and consistent.
La Puente, a predominately Latino community, has been rattled by the alleged offenses.
"In the Latino community these kids are taught you respect, you honor your teacher, you look at your teacher almost like you look at a priest," he said. "This unfettered trust that they are taught to carry out with teachers was completely destroyed and devastated. This will affect these young boys for the rest of their lives."
CNNE's Jaqueline Hurtado contributed to this report.