$1 million lawsuit filed over hazing of student

May 11, 1994|By Michael James and Lem Satterfield | Michael James and Lem Satterfield,Sun Staff Writers

The mother of a 16-year-old student at the McDonogh school filed a $1 million lawsuit yesterday, charging that the school allowed her son to be humiliated by upper classmen who tied, gagged and doused him with urine in a hazing ritual.

As a result of the hazing, the student, John Working, and his brother Michael severely beat one of the upperclassmen in a retaliatory attack, police said. Both the Workings were charged with assault and were dismissed from McDonogh.

Their mother, Carole Working, contended in the lawsuit that the 121-year-old private school condones hazing among students. She cited a recent letter from the school's headmaster that described the hazing of John as "good-natured, not mean spirited."

But school officials denied the claim yesterday and suggested that responsibility for the hazing should be shared by John Working's father.

John's father is Richard "Mike" Working, the school's highly touted football coach. He is also a middle school baseball coach at McDonogh and was one of three adult supervisors for a trip in March to Orlando, Fla., where the hazing occurred, school officials said.

"The facts are clear. Coach Working was the senior faculty member responsible for student behavior on that floor on the evening the hazing took place," Larry Johnston, vice president of McDonogh, said.

"Coach Working became aware of the events the following day and failed to report them. Had he acted responsibly the school would have dealt directly with the issue and possibly could have prevented [his] sons from severely beating a McDonogh student," Mr. Johnston said.

Stephen R. Tully, the Working family's attorney, said that although Richard Working was a chaperon on the trip, he was not in charge of supervision and was unaware of any hazing.

The hazing occurred in a motel room, where John Working had accompanied fellow members of the McDonogh baseball team on a trip during spring break, the lawsuit alleges.

Several members of the baseball team were initiating new players and performed several hazing rites. In addition to being doused with urine, John Working was grabbed by the testicles, tied to a chair, blindfolded, gagged with a dirty sock and the words words "I am a f-----" were written with a pen on his chest, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit alleges that the primary supervisor of the trip was baseball coach Al Poklemba and that he "was aware of . . . and in fact heard the activities occurring" but did nothing to stop them. Mr. Poklemba declined to comment yesterday.

On March 22, after the team had returned to Maryland, John and Michael Working ambushed the student who had poured the urine and severely beat him in a campus locker room, Baltimore County police said.

Police said the motive for the attack was retaliation for the hazing.

As a result of the beating -- in which the student, Adam Vasilakis, was rammed head-first at running speed into a concrete wall -- John and Michael Working were charged by police with assault with intent to murder. The charge was later downgraded to assault and battery.

Both Workings were dismissed from school and are now attending Dulaney High School. The Vasilakis youth suffered a concussion and some memory loss but has since recovered.

"It's been a very upsetting situation for the entire Working family, and, I might add, completely unnecessary," Mr. Tully said. "None of this should have happened. Hazing is harmful and counterproductive. I'm appalled that it's been characterized [by the school] as 'good-natured.' "

In a letter in late March to parents, McDonogh headmaster W. Boulton Dixon announced that two players from the baseball team "have been suspended from the team for two weeks because of their poor judgment with respect to the urine incident."

He also said that the baseball team had been asked to "contribute a significant amount of constructive labor" to the McDonogh campus.

Mr. Dixon said in the letter that hazing "is a careless, thoughtless form of communication" and wouldn't be tolerated at the school.

But, he wrote of the Florida incident, "The spirit of the hazing was good-natured, not mean spirited. In fact, many of the vTC underclassmen, after being hazed, later participated in the hazing of others. Clearly, however, there were errors of judgment made.

"No matter how 'good-natured' the intent is, any form of hazing shall have no place on or off this campus," he said in the letter.

Richard Working, whose father was football coach at McDonogh from the 1950s to the 1970s, made only a brief statement to a reporter, saying, "I'm not being accused of anything, and I didn't do anything. And as far as my children, I think that . . . when everything is said and done, it will become very obvious who the victim is."

The lawsuit, filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court, accuses the school of negligence.

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