Prosecutor takes over Wall football ‘hazing’ probe; parents slam BOE, no Thanksgiving game for team

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Tuesday's meeting of the Wall Township Board of Education was held at the high school. PHOTO BY DANIELLA HEMINHAUS

This report was prepared by Michael Nunes, Sanne Young and Fred Tuccillo

WALL TOWNSHIP — The ongoing investigation of alleged assault in the guise of “hazing” by members of the Wall High School football team was front and center on the agenda of the Wall Township school board’s meeting Tuesday night, following two major announcements earlier in the day.

Earlier Tuesday, Superintendent Tracy R. Handerhan declared the team’s season officially over Tuesday morning, withdrawing it from a scheduled Thanksgiving Day game against Manasquan High School. Manasquan immediately announced that it would instead host Shore Regional in the holiday game.

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“The decision has been made to end the football season and not play the Thanksgiving Day game,” Ms. Handerhan wrote in a letter to the school community.  “We acknowledge that this is difficult news for many in our community.”

Later on Tuesday, Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Lori Linskey announced that her office “has assumed sole responsibility for conducting separate criminal investigations stemming from allegations that acts of hazing occurred within the Wall Township High School football program and unrelated allegations that one or more sexual assaults involving juveniles took place off campus.”

During Tuesday night’s BOE meeting, Superintendent Handerhan pushed back on “rumors” that the district had been attempting to sweep the allegations or assault “under the rug.” She related steps that had been taken to initially investigate the allegations, cooperate with law enforcement authorities and, ultimately, to defer to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office. She also referenced the cancellation of the team’s playoff and Thanksgiving Day games and providing mental health counseling at the school.

“Our first and foremost commitment is to the well-being and our students, your children,” she said, noting that counselors were on hand in the meeting rooms and available for consultation.

Several parents, including Chris Rogers, who said he has a son on the team, criticized the board and the school administration for what he called “the vilification” of the entire varsity football team for the actions of a few.

Another parent rose to cite bullying incidents unrelated to the football case which she said has not received adequate attention from school administrators. “It’s not just the high school that has a problem,” said Jamie Sullivan, the mother of a male student at Wall Intermediate.

In her statement, Acting Prosecutor Linskey said that Wall Township police had “been assisting” during the initial stages of both cases, but added that “out of an abundance of caution, and in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety and to protect the integrity of the investigations, the Department has since been walled off from participating further.”

“Multiple” assistant prosecutors and detectives have been assigned to the investigations, she said, also noting that “juvenile records are strictly confidential under state law, so at this time, no additional specific information about these investigations can be released.

“Likewise, Superior Court proceedings involving juvenile defendants, meaning defendants under the age of 18, are closed to the public, and the identities of such defendants are kept confidential,” the prosecutor said.

Ms. Linskey also said that her office “strongly urges against the spread of misinformation and rumor, both online and otherwise,” echoing an earlier, similar appeal issued by Superintendent Handerhan last Friday. Both appeals referenced the impact of the allegations on the mental health of students at Wall High School

“As these investigations unfold, we remain fully aware of the intense focus and unique pressure a national media spotlight has placed on the Wall Township High School community, and are sensitive to safeguarding the mental health and general well-being of students while simultaneously serving the interests of justice,” Ms. Linskey said.

“We are conducting these investigations with the utmost diligence, dedicating every necessary resource in order to uncover the entire truth, and this process will be thorough, fair, and unbiased from beginning to end.”   

Anyone with relevant information is now being urged to contact Prosecutor’s Office Detective Jose Rodriguez at (732) 431-7160, Ext. 7172. Anonymous information can be shared with Monmouth County Crime Stoppers at 1-800-671-4400 or through their website at www.monmouthcountycrimestoppers.com.  

Three coaches have been put on administrative leave in connection with the ongoing investigation of alleged assault in the guise of “hazing” by members of the Wall High School football team, according to a spokesperson for the union representing teachers and other staff in the school district.

Late last week, Dawn Hiltner, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Education Association, issued a statement in response to multiple media queries about the Wall football coaches, saying, “An attorney was assigned to the NJEA members involved.” However, the statement did not include names and added that the union had “no further information” about the alleged incident.

Following a Nov. 10 acknowledgement that law enforcement authorities were investigating “an anonymous rumor concerning allegations of hazing among Wall High School football player,” the Wall school district withdrew the team from a Friday, Nov. 12 playoff game against Delsea Regional High School.

Ms. Handerhan issued a letter to the school community on Nov. 12, decrying “many media reports that are grounded in rumor. This circulation of misinformation is  compounding an already difficult and challenging situation. This type of messaging is hurtful to the students, school community, and to the greater Wall Township community.”

Attempts to reach Wall High School football coach Tony Grandinetti, Athletic Director Tom Ridoux and High School Principal Rosaleen Sirchio have been unsuccessful.

In her Nov. 12 letter, Ms. Handerhan also announced that the district has arranged for mental health counselors to be available to students at Wall High School on Monday and repeated a reference to rules of confidentiality that limit what she can say about matters involving students or school personnel.

“I will apprise the community on any updates when I am permitted to do so,” the superintendent wrote in closing.

The initial statement issued to the school community on Nov. 10, read: “Upon hearing of an anonymous rumor concerning allegations of hazing among Wall High School football players, the school immediately contacted law enforcement and the appropriate state agencies.”

The Nov. 10 statement was signed by Superintendent Handerhan and school board president Ralph Addonizio. It  concluded, “District and high school decision makers take the safety of our students and staff very seriously. There is no greater priority. We will keep the community apprised of this pending investigation to the extent we are able.”

While he did not disclose the nature of the activity being investigated, Mr. Addonizio on Nov. 10 said,  “there is a pending investigation and the school district is cooperating fully. We cannot comment further on a pending investigation of a student matter.”

An anonymous letter mailed to The Coast Star office in Manasquan identified the alleged crime as sexual assault involving football players and occurring on school premises. Also, parents who asked that their names be withheld have contacted The Coast Star with accounts describing alleged abuse of a sexual nature by a member or members of the football team against younger players. The accounts referenced a video of the incident, as have reports by several New Jersey media outlets.

This is a developing story. Updates will be made online and in print in the next edition of The Coast Star.

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