Late in the summer of 2013, a 14-year-old Salvadoran immigrant left his Somerville home for a high school sports camp in the Berkshires, his parents trusting he would be kept safe by the coaches he hoped to impress.
Two days later, the boy was indecently assaulted with a broomstick during a hazing frenzy in a camp cabin. Two of his Somerville High School soccer teammates, aged 14 and 15, were assaulted less violently, and two 16-year-old team members were convicted as juveniles for the attacks. They each served a year in the state’s youth detention system.
Another teammate, Galileo Mondol, who had just turned 17, was charged as an adult with 10 counts, including aggravated rape of a child. Mondol was jailed for a week until a dangerousness hearing and shackled at his ankles and wrists at the courthouse, his image widely circulated by news media. Twenty months later, prosecutors dropped the charges. His life remains ruptured.
But the adults who were considered responsible for supervising the student-athletes, including Somerville mayor Joseph Curtatone, a camp organizer and chaperone, and George Scarpelli, the soccer coach, faced no disciplinary action. Both denied any wrongdoing, characterizing the assaults not as hazing but as “violent criminal acts’’ they could not have anticipated or prevented.
The Somerville saga is not uncommon, as numerous high school coaches in Massachusetts over the last 15 years have emerged from hazing attacks all but unscathed. While children have suffered life-altering sexual assaults in rituals perversely associated with team-building and their teammates have been tainted as criminal offenders, the adults purportedly responsible for them often have carried on with impunity, to the dismay of the victims and anti-hazing advocates.
“The adults in charge — the coaches and other school officials — need to be held responsible for the safety of their student-athletes at all times,’’ said Elliot Hopkins, director of sports, sanctioning, and student services for the National Federation of High Schools. “If not them, then who?’’
A Globe review also found a shortcoming in the state’s response to high school hazing: the lack of a requirement that every school hazing incident be reported to a state agency. Under the current system, no state office tracks hazing in Massachusetts schools, and countless incidents go unreported, according to anti-hazing authorities.
State Auditor Suzanne Bump has advocated since 2011 for mandatory reporting of hazing, and the Legislature has yet to act.
“Every student deserves a safe place to learn, free from harassment, bullying, or intimidations,’’ Bump said. “I believe better data allows for more informed decisions in all aspects of government. This is why I advocated for better reporting on incidents of hazing and bullying, and why I continue to believe that the collection of this data is critical.”
While the public remains in the dark about an untold number of hazing incidents, some of the most serious cases receive media attention, as occurred with the Somerville assaults. On Friday, the 14-year-old, who the Globe is not identifying because he was a juvenile victim of a sexual assault, filed a lawsuit against Curtatone, Scarpelli, and school superintendent Anthony Pierantozzi, seeking damages for physical and emotional injuries.
The boy’s case comes eight months after Mondol sued the same Somerville officials, alleging they conspired to have him wrongly accused to cover up their responsibility for the assaults and protect their political stature. The Somerville officials deny the allegations in both cases.
Mondol said in an e-mail to the Globe that the episode taught him a painful lesson.
“When I first was arrested, I trusted that my coaches and school officials would look out for all their students’ safety and well-being, including mine, and would soon realize they made a mistake in accusing me of crimes that the victims and my codefendants all said I didn’t commit,’’ he said. “But as time went on, I lost that trust. I saw the men I looked up to taking advantage of both the accused and the victims to cover up their own fault and advance their careers.’’
Curtatone, who announced a month before the incident that he was considering running for governor, has twice since been reelected mayor, aided by financial support from Scarpelli. Curtatone also backed Scarpelli’s successful campaigns for the Medford School Committee in 2013 and City Council in 2015.
‘The adults in charge . . . need to be held responsible for the safety of their student-athletes at all times. If not them, then who?’Elliot Hopkins, director of sports, sanctioning, and student services for the National Federation of High Schools
Scarpelli, Curtatone, and other Somerville officials have said they knew nothing about prior hazing incidents at the camp.
“We agree that adults and coaches who tolerate a culture of hazing, violence, or rape, or who cover up such acts should absolutely be held accountable, but in the Somerville case we have the opposite situation,’’ the city’s lawyer, Leonard Kesten, said in a statement to the Globe.
Kesten said testimony will show that at least two of the victims continue to implicate Mondol in the assaults, although their statements are inconsistent.
As for the alleged coverup, Curtatone denied his “actions regarding this horrific crime were in any way motivated by anything having to do with politics,’’ Kesten stated in the city’s legal response to Mondol’s suit.
Kesten said Scarpelli acted only out of concern for the students and their parents, while Pierantozzi’s “actions were taken for the good of the Somerville High School community.’’
As the Somerville cases churn through the courts, anti-hazing advocates and victims called on state and local leaders to establish policies that make it more difficult for school officials to skirt blame for hazing abuses.
“It really gets me that there are sexual assaults at the high school level and coaches are said to be unaware of them,’’ said Hank Nuwer, a hazing researcher whose books include, “High School Hazing: When Rites Become Wrongs.’’
“There needs to be a way to hold coaches and administrators accountable so they can’t say they knew nothing about it, because what they’re really doing is turning their backs on it,’’ Nuwer said.
School officials unscathed
The trail of hazing cases in which Massachusetts school officials have faced few, if any, sanctions runs from Pentucket (2001) to Needham (2010) to Andover (2011) to Dedham (2012) to Chelmsford, Somerville, and Northbridge (2013), and Swampscott (2015).
Scars remain for some victims, their trauma exacerbated by watching the coaches they feel betrayed them thrive. In a case that still resonates with anti-hazing authorities, Matthew Weymouth was 15 in 2001 when he balked at Pentucket football coach Steve Hayden’s invitation to attend a summer camp in New Hampshire.
Weymouth said he expressed concern about a history of hazing at the camps, but the coach assured him he would not be hurt. Hayden admitted in court documents that he encouraged Weymouth to attend the camp and told him the students would be supervised, but he denied assuring Weymouth he would not be harmed.
On the second day of camp, Weymouth was pinned to a cabin floor by a pair of teammates as more than a dozen watched. One player allegedly dragged his genitals across Weymouth’s face. Another then allegedly rolled him over and tried to violate him with a banana.
Weymouth required extensive psychological treatment, felt forced out of Pentucket, never again played football, and copes to this day with emotional consequences. He sued Hayden and other school officials.
Hayden admitted in a court document that he was “at all relevant times responsible for the oversight of the high school football team,’’ but he accepted no legal responsibility for the incident.
In 2013, Hayden was enshrined in the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Weymouth said he felt victimized again.
“When you allow people who are supposed to be responsible for children to keep their jobs after those children were sexually molested, physically and mentally beaten down, and bullied, what are you saying, that it’s more important to move a football down a field and win a cheap high school trophy than protect children from being forced to suffer abuse that will change their lives for the worse forever?’’ Weymouth said.
In 2005, he received a financial settlement from the school district. Weymouth has since launched a nonprofit, Hazing Hurts, and has met with US Education Secretary Arne Duncan as well as congressional leaders, state legislators, and municipal officials in his effort to fight hazing in part by establishing mandatory reporting and holding coaches accountable.
Hayden, meanwhile, remains Pentucket’s football coach. He did not respond to requests through the school district for comment.
Disciplinary action needed
Hopkins, the anti-hazing specialist, said strong disciplinary action against coaches who fail to ensure student safety would help curb the problem.
“All it takes is for one coach to be fired for that message to spread like wildfire through a [sports] conference,’’ Hopkins said.
One of the only known local school districts to fire a coach in recent years over a hazing incident was Bridgewater-Raynham, which dismissed Jeff Francis in 2012. In that case, a member of the wrestling team reportedly was assaulted with a broom.
Under Massachusetts law, hazing is punishable by maximum penalties of a $3,000 fine and a year in jail. But hazing persists despite the deterrent, often secretly because victims feel too humiliated or intimidated to come forward and witnesses remain silent for fear of retaliation.
In Andover, two members of the high school boys’ basketball team were charged with crimes and five others suspended after two freshmen were allegedly forced to engage in a humiliating sexual practice in 2011 at a summer camp operated by Hoop Mountain at Stonehill College. Players said they were encouraged by the high school coach, Dave Fazio, to attend the camp.
One alleged victim, who was 16 at the time, sued the town, Hoop Mountain, and Stonehill in January, saying he attended the camp after he was assured he “would be properly supervised and cared for.’’
The 16-year-old alleged no adult was present when he and a young teammate were forced to strip naked and engage in a masturbation contest. The loser, he said, was forced to eat a cookie covered with the other’s semen.
The alleged victim’s lawsuit says he was “taunted, bullied, and teased unmercifully’’ afterward, even as he kept the incident secret under the threat of harm from the perpetrators. The suit says he continues to suffer “serious, significant, and disabling injuries.’’
When Andover officials learned of the incident four months after it occurred, Fazio was suspended with pay for less than two weeks.
“Mr. Fazio acted promptly, compassionately, professionally, legally, and morally by responding to the boy and his parents, some of the parents of other boys involved, to the Andover Police and his superiors all at the first opportunity,” his attorney, Michael Morris, told the Eagle-Tribune at the time. “Mr. Fazio did everything possible to deal with this four-month-old situation.’’
Several anti-hazing authorities said the best way for coaches to do everything possible is preventing abuse.
“A lot of communities now are really wondering why a coach and athletic director aren’t held accountable for what goes on, especially when it happens in a locker room, a bus, or an overnight trip,’’ said Norm Pollard, the dean of students at Alfred University, who co-authored a landmark 2000 report, “Initiation Rites in American High Schools: A National Survey.’’
In Chelmsford, the school district faces legal action after three high school football players allegedly assaulted a younger teammate with a broomstick at a summer camp in 2013, according to a letter to school officials from the boy’s lawyer.
The letter, obtained by the Lowell Sun, alleged a history of hazing at the camp. The boy’s lawyer, Brian Leahey, claimed school officials “created a culture where star athletes thought they could do as they please with impunity.’’
What’s more, Leahey alleged, school officials, including football coach Bruce Rich, “set forth a false narrative about the events that minimizes or whitewashes the incidents.”
Rich remained the school’s football coach for three seasons after the incident, and he still coaches Chelmsford’s varsity wrestling team. He and school officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Rich’s experience is not unique. Needham High girls’ soccer coach Carl Tarabelli was placed on administrative leave for only one game along with five of his players after a 2010 incident in which younger teammates were blindfolded, led about on leashes, and struck in their faces with pies.
In Dedham, Dave Flynn remains the football coach after four of his players were charged as juveniles in a 2012 hazing incident. And Northbridge football coach Ken LaChapelle kept his job in 2013 after four of his older players allegedly pressured a freshman to sip urine.
In Swampscott, police responded one night last fall to a practice field and discovered five naked young high school football players near a bonfire performing athletic drills while some upperclassmen taunted them with obscenities. Older team members and parents described the event as an annual rite.
Swampscott school officials issued a public statement effectively holding the football coach, Bob Serino, blameless.
“Going forward, we will make anti-hazing education a requirement for all student-athletes,” Swampscott school superintendent Pamela Angelakis said at the time.
Her response struck anti-hazing specialists as too little too late. Under state law, every Massachusetts school has been obligated since 1985 to establish policies to prevent hazing and each student-athlete has been required to sign an anti-hazing pledge before a sports season begins.
Angelakis said by e-mail to the Globe that her education initiative exceeded the state requirement because she enlisted the Essex County district attorney’s office and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society to provide informational sessions to Swampscott students.
Much remains in dispute
In the Somerville case, all 170 student-athletes on the camp trip signed anti-hazing pledges before they departed for the Berkshires. Curtatone, a volunteer football coach, also lectured the group about hazing.
Yet the signed pledges and Curtatone’s message apparently lacked sufficient force. The attack on the three youths occurred after Scarpelli left the camp with about 30 soccer players for a scrimmage, leaving behind about 30 others.
No adult was present when the victims were targeted in one of the cabins. First there was teasing, then indecency, violence, blood, and tears.
Mondol contends Curtatone, Scarpelli, and school officials conspired to minimize the political damage of the assault by influencing the testimony of victims and witnesses before they spoke to the police.
He also claims Curtatone, Scarpelli, and school officials manipulated and misled law enforcement authorities to frame him. He alleges they considered him a convenient fall guy because he was old enough to become a face of the crime, because he was new to Somerville High — he had transferred that summer from Thayer Academy in Braintree — and because his mother was pushing for a charter school that Curtatone and other city leaders opposed.
The day Mondol and the juveniles were arrested, Somerville officials issued a news release in which city and school leaders and the Berkshire district attorney praised each other’s handling of the case.
“In Somerville, you have a school district and a sports program that have a history of making extraordinary efforts to proactively prevent hazing, bullying, and violence and as a result have had longstanding programs without incident,’’ Kesten said in his statement to the Globe.
Seven weeks after the incident, Curtatone abandoned running for governor, saying the timing was not right. He breezed to victory in the next two mayoral elections, while also supporting Scarpelli’s campaigns.
For his part, Scarpelli coached the soccer team that season to the Eastern Massachusetts Division 1 championship, earning the Globe’s coach of the year recognition. He credited his players with “rallying’’ to overcome the assault, and he was awarded an honorary degree at the school’s commencement ceremony.
Kesten expressed confidence in defending city officials against the lawsuits. While he had yet to review the young victim’s suit, he said Mondol’s “attorneys have reviewed thousands of pages of documents,’’ and “no evidence to support the allegations against the defendants has been produced.’’
Wrong, said Mondol’s attorney, Selena Fitanides, in a written reply to the Globe.
“The documents produced in Galileo’s civil case against the city already provide enough evidence to sustain a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs in this case, and discovery has only just begun,’’ Fitanides said.
As for the 14-year-old victim, he continued playing soccer for the Somerville High team, though he has required considerable psychological counseling because of the assault, according to his lawyer, Patricia Rezendes.
While life went on for many in Somerville after the attacks, Mondol was unable to find a public or private school to accept him in the 20 months that he faced a rape charge. He later entered Cambridge Rindge and Latin, where the stigma followed him. Before he graduated in June, he invited two girls to the school prom, only for their parents to nix the dates because of his tarnished image.
Once a member of the Olympic Development Program in Massachusetts, Mondol before the assaults was considered destined to play collegiate soccer. But he never again played high school soccer. He went unrecruited by colleges, and as he prepares to enter Stonehill this fall, he is given little chance of playing the sport he loves.Bob Hohler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.