TIMES WATCHDOG: Newly released Kirkland police records describe a hazing culture in the Juanita High School football program and show school officials initially were uncooperative when police investigated the attempted sodomy of a student team manager in the locker-room showers.
Juanita High School and Lake Washington School District officials have denied a hazing culture existed in the football program, but newly released police records undercut their accounts.
Seven Juanita football players told Kirkland police they’d witnessed or heard of hazing that included attempted sodomy, saying some of the incidents took place at the team’s summer football camp on Whidbey Island — months before an October 2014 broomstick assault on a special-needs student in the Juanita locker-room showers, according to the documents.
The records also show that just after the broomstick assault, school officials tried to avoid involving police and initially were uncooperative.
The locker-room assault led to a highly publicized court case in which five Juanita freshman football players were charged with attempted rape, accused of pulling down the victim’s pants and underwear, then poking him with a broomstick.
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The five were expelled last year. Three have pleaded guilty to reduced charges of third-degree felony assault. The other two cases are pending.
Youth Court Judge John Erlick, who reviewed these documents before sentencing three of the players in August, said a hazing culture existed within the high school’s football program. Some of the five freshman players had been targets of similar hazing themselves, the judge said.
After The Seattle Times first recounted the judge’s remarks in mid-September, school officials said their own investigation found no evidence to support Erlick’s characterization.
Kathryn Reith, a district spokeswoman, said Wednesday the district did have the police reports. She earlier noted that the team’s booster club ran the camp and it was not a school activity.
The booster club has said nobody from the district asked about hazing.
Ninety-four pages of police reports and more than three hours of recorded police interviews of witnesses to the locker-room assault, obtained via a public-records request, portray a Juanita football environment where attempted and threatened acts of sodomy were common and joked about.
The day of the attack, Juanita athletic director Steve Juzeler did not return a police message to call immediately. Only on a sixth phone attempt did police reach him, about 12:30 a.m., records show.
By then, assistant coach Lele Te’o already had taken written statements from players and some were not allowed to play in that night’s game.
At first Juzeler denied to police he knew about the shower-room attack, but when pressed, said he knew of the incident but didn’t think it serious enough to involve police, public records show.
By that time, however, Juzeler already had phoned the victim’s aunt — his legal guardian — and told her some type of incident had occurred. She obtained further details from her nephew, a volunteer manager with the team, then immediately contacted police.
Also, by the time Juzeler first talked to police he knew the names of some of the attackers and that the victim had been found stripped of his underpants, he would tell police.
Juzeler also said principal Gary Moed had informed him earlier in the day that police should not be alerted, according to a police report.
During the conversation, Kirkland Police Sgt. Tim Carpenter chided Juzeler. “I told him that what occurred, even based on his knowledge of the events, was in fact criminal and should have been reported,” Carpenter wrote in his report.
Police interviewed students the next day at the school and took some of them into custody.
Juzeler declined to be interviewed by The Times. Moed has not responded to interview requests.
Later, the Kirkland police investigation into the attack was delayed when police sought copies of the district’s own investigation, including witness interviews. A district lawyer declined to provide them, saying the police needed to get a search warrant or subpoena.
In late January, police executed a search warrant at school-district offices and the documents were provided.
Accounts of hazing at camp
Accounts by players to the Kirkland police, many given in December 2014, show the broomstick attack on the special-needs student was part of an ongoing “jubie” hazing culture dating back at least to the previous summer.
Athletes told police of numerous attempts to haze players at the July training at Camp Casey on Whidbey Island, which was run by the football booster club as a team-building weekend. (The Times typically does not name young offenders or underage witnesses to crimes.)
One freshman player, who was also a witness to the October 2014 broomstick assault, told police he had learned the “jubie” term at the camp from older varsity players. It referred to hazing that included actual, attempted or implied rectal penetration by fingers or a foreign object.
“They would kind of joke around, trying to poke a broom up somebody’s rectum,” a freshman player told police in December 2014. “But they didn’t do it with somebody’s pants off. They just did it as a joke.”
Another player, also a freshman, told police about a friend on the team who on the final night of the summer camp ran out of a building, distraught, telling him he’d been “jubied” by seniors. He said his friend was so upset, he assumed he’d been penetrated.
This same freshman player also described witnessing an attempted hazing on a sophomore player walking out of a shower with a towel around his waist. The freshman said five players ripped the towel away and tried wrestling the sophomore to the floor, but he fought them off.
In another case, a different player told police a varsity player was attacked on a bunk bed at camp. “They were just trying to pull his pants down but he didn’t let that happen,’’ the witness told police. “He just jumped off and got super mad.’’
Two freshmen and some varsity players were behind the attack, which was observed by most of the team, the witness recounted. The intended victim, who is still on the football team, did not report it.
The victim did confirm the bunk-bed attack when asked about it in May by coach Shaun Tarantola, the coach said in an interview with The Seattle Times last month.
But Tarantola assumed others knew of the incident, he said, and did not report it to anybody. He is now an assistant football coach at a Texas high school.
Tarantola, who had been at the camp, denied knowing such hazing was taking place. Te’o, who succeeded him as head coach, also did not, he said.
Both coaches, who had been put on leave after the October 2014 attack, were later cleared of any wrongdoing and reinstated by the district. Te’o did not respond to interview requests.
Among the newly released documents are accounts by some players who told police they were upset the assault impacted an otherwise strong 6-3 season for Juanita’s varsity team.
“The team feels it’s just really unfair because we had a good run at the playoffs this year,’’ one player told police. “I thought we could have gone [further] if we didn’t lose our coaches.’’
Juanita was routed 52-28 by Sumner in its playoff opener.