Police, school look into Bel Air High hazing allegation

Wrestling team probe finds questionable acts, but legal definition unmet

April 05, 2001|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

A parent's complaint has sparked an investigation into incidents of alleged hazing among members of the Bel Air High School wrestling team.

The investigation began Friday, centering on a complaint that a freshman wrestler was sexually assaulted by an older member of the team.

John W. Harkins, deputy chief of the Bel Air Police Department, said investigators have determined the incident was part of a long-standing team tradition involving "horseplay." He said police conducted 48 interviews - including with team members, parents and coaches - and found "more than a couple" of wrestlers who said they were victimized. "Members of the wrestling team touched, prodded new members of the team with shoes, barbells or mop handles," Harkins said yesterday, adding there was no evidence of sexual abuse.

"It was part of a thing with the wrestling team, a tradition," he said.

No serious physical injuries were reported, and no charges have been filed.

Harkins said the police investigation revealed the incidents did not legally constitute hazing because they were not part of an initiation ceremony. "We prefer to say it is hazing in a broad sense, but not hazing in a legal sense," he said.

Maryland law defines hazing as "any act or causing any situation which recklessly or intentionally subjects a student to the risk of serious bodily injury for the purpose of initiation into a student organization of a school, college or university," according to Section 27 of the Maryland Code.

The Harford County state's attorney's office will review each incident and decide if assault charges should be filed. "We are dealing with juveniles, and at this time the state's attorney's office is not going to file charges unless new information surfaces," Harkins said.

School officials also have launched an investigation, and the students involved could be suspended or expelled, said Donald R. Morrison, a spokesman for the Harford County school system.

Harkins said the incidents occurred before practice in the "team room" during wrestling season, which runs from late November to mid-February.

Mehran Mirjafary, a senior and a member of the wrestling team, said yesterday that he was not aware of the incidents. "It could have been going on without everyone noticing it," he said.

But Bryan Michalak, a junior and former team member, said such incidents have been occurring for years in the team room.

"It was mainly seniors trying to get freshmen," Michalak said. "We used to get in [the team room], and the coach would be changing, so we were unsupervised."

Chris Maney, a senior who is on the soccer team, said similar traditions are observed by other teams at Bel Air High School.

"It is just wrong, extremely wrong," Maney said.

Morrison said school officials were not aware of the incidents until the parent came forward last week. The school investigation is limited to the wrestling team, he added, but could be expanded if administrators determine there is a more widespread problem.

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