Nathaniel William Thomas, 17, arrested on criminal charges in connection with an assault investigation at Chandler Hamilton High School, was released on bond from a Maricopa County jail on April 6, 2017. Logan Newman/azcentral.com
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Ken Countryman, the attorney of Hamilton High School football player Nathaniel Thomas, 17, was joined by the teen’s family and friends after the Thomas was granted a bond by a Maricopa County Superior Court judge Wednesday afternoon.
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Initial court appearance of Nathaniel William Thomas, 17, who was charged with several felony counts in a case which began with allegations of hazing at Hamilton High School in Chandler. Maricopa County Superior Court
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Here’s what we know about the Hamilton High School hazing arrests.
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Nathaniel Thomas released from jail
Attorney defends charged Hamilton player
Nathaniel Thomas’s initial court appearance
Here’s what we know about the Hamilton High arrests
Three football players at Hamilton High School have been charged after Chandler police alleged they committed various crimes, including sexual assault, against fellow players.
The charges rocked the school and Arizona football community.
One teen, Nathaniel William Thomas, 17, was charged with a series of felonies against three victims. The teen was charged as an adult with sex assault and multiple counts of molestation, kidnapping and aggravated assault.
According to materials provided by the Maricopa County Superior Court, prosecutors said Thomas used his finger to molest one teammate and attempted to do so to two others. The teen, a junior, vehemently denied the allegations, his attorney Ken Countryman said at Thomas’ initial appearance.
Two other members of the team, both 16, are facing charges as juveniles and remain in the custody of the Maricopa County Juvenile Court system.
Six arrested, three charged
On March 29, Chandler police announced the arrest of six Hamilton football players, five who attend Hamilton High School and one who attends Chief Hill Learning Academy part time. The teens, ranging in age from 16 to 18 years old, were suspected of being connected to crimes involving a hazing case.
Police and the Chandler Unified School District said they were alerted by a third party in February to the hazing allegations, which they said spanned about 17 months from September 2015 to January.
Police said the crimes impacted “multiple male victims” who were current and former football players at the school. The series of related crimes occurred in the locker room of the school, located at Arizona Avenue and Ocotillo Road, police said.
That night, a juvenile and an 18-year-old player were released from custody. A police spokesman said investigators had enough probable cause to arrest the students but they were not being recommended for charges.
On March 30, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office announced Thomas was charged as an adult, and the two 16-year-old boys would be charged as juveniles. The younger defendants face kidnapping, aggravated assault and assault charges. Prosecutors will determine if they, too, will be charged as adults in the case.
Prosecutors were continuing to investigate a charge that Chandler police were seeking against a 15-year-old player believed to be involved.
Hamilton boasts one of the most successful high-school football programs in Arizona, having won seven state championships since 2003. Its head football coach, Steve Belles, was reassigned by the school district to remain off campus in the wake of the arrests.
Chandler police believe there is a possibility other victims may exist and have urged those with information about the case to call 480-782-4130.
17-year-old charged as an adult
Thomas was charged as an adult with three felonies. Arizona law says that a county attorney can pursue criminal prosecution of many charges against a juvenile in the same manner as an adult if the minor is 15 to 17 at the time of the alleged offense.
The law stipulates that prosecutors may pursue adult felony charges in cases involving murder, forcible sexual assault, armed robbery or any other violent offense, among others.
The 17-year-old was released April 6 from the custody of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office on a $25,000 bond.
“All we know is that he is coming home and he can defend himself from home,” the teen’s attorney, Ken Countryman, said.
The act of forcible sexual assault, defined as a sexual act committed without consent of the victim, is a Class 2 felony and includes a presumptive sentence of seven years in prison if a defendant is found guilty.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said at a news conference April 5 that his office wants a thorough investigation. Investigators intend to contact more potential victims who have not been identified in court documents. He said he hoped that if there were more victims, they would come forward.
The totality of the charges, as well as the defendants’ ages, are factors in determining how the state shall proceed in its case against the teens, Montgomery said. He said that defendants charged in juvenile court are given opportunities for rehabilitation before they turn 18 to prevent more serious behavior from occurring.
He said just because someone is charged as an adult, it “isn’t always because we want to seek enhanced punishment. Oftentimes it’s because we need more time that can be provided in an adult-system prosecution.”
Arizona law stipulates hazing prevention policies for schools
Law-enforcement officials initially described the Hamilton football case as an investigation into hazing allegations.
Arizona law defines hazing as any “intentional, knowing or reckless act” found to be committed by a student, acting individually, or with others, against a fellow student. Criteria of the offense is described in two categories:
- The act was committed as an initiation or maintenance of membership in affiliation with any organization connected to an educational institution.
- The offense potentially contributes to a substantial risk or causes physical injury, mental harm or degradation.
By law, every public educational institution in the state is obligated to adopt, post and enforce a hazing prevention policy meant to be printed in every student handbook. One stipulation includes a statement that it is not a defense for the perpetrators if the victim consented to or acquiesced to the hazing activity.
Hamilton High School’s student handbook, available on its website, includes passages about bullying, intimidation and harassment, in which hazing is mentioned. The punishment for being caught hazing at the school ranges from suspension to expulsion.
Although the handbook includes the definition and outlines a specific punishment for the offense, several defined hazing-prevention policies outlined by state law are not included in the digital handbook.
If an organization knowingly permitted, authorized or condoned the hazing of members, it potentially could be suspended or revoked from the school campus. In addition, any teacher or staff member who was aware and disregarded the hazing is subject to disciplinary action by the school, according to the Hamilton handbook
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