Charges have been filed against “a number” of New Jersey high school students stemming from an investigation into allegations of hazing, authorities said.
The students at Wall Township High School were charged with hazing, attempted criminal sexual contact, criminal sexual contact, false imprisonment and harassment, said Monmouth County’s acting prosecutor, Lori Linskey, who announced Monday that juvenile complaints had been filed.
The incidents, some of which were recorded on cellphone video, are alleged to have occurred in the football team's locker room in September and October.
A second, unrelated investigation resulted in additional charges of aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault against one juvenile. Linskey alleged in a statement that the incident occurred outside school.
Further details, including exactly how many students were believed to have been involved, were not released because the case involves minors.
Christopher Adams, a lawyer for one of the juveniles, denied that there was anything sexual about the incidents.
"The prosecutor’s office release of facts related to juvenile charges is unprecedented and grossly irresponsible," Adams said in an emailed statement.
"There is absolutely nothing sexual about anything that happened in the videos or in the locker room. This was wrestling and horsing around by 15, 16 and 17 year old boys — all dressed — before football practice in front of the coaches. The coaches witnessed this behavior and saw it for what it was — sophomoric, not sexual," Adams said. "Adding a baseless sex charge is not only unsupported by the facts, but nothing more than playing politics and pandering to the media."
He said in a phone call Tuesday that he is seeking to have the sex charges against his client dismissed.
"Deal with it for what it is. If you want to call this harassment, we can have a rational discussion over that. I don’t even think this amounts to hazing. ... These are high school boys screwing around," he said.
The prosecutor's office began investigating in November after it became aware of allegations of hazing at the school, as well as unrelated allegations of a sexual assault off-campus.
Linskey said in Monday's statement that hazing has no place in school.
"It is imperative that victims of hazing, harassment, intimidation, and bullying know that such conduct is not a ‘rite of passage’ and should not be endured without consequence in order to gain acceptance in social, club, sport, or academic settings," she said.
"We are hopeful that the lessons gleaned from this case foster a renewed focus on actively teaching juveniles in all of our schools what conduct crosses the line of acceptability, and what students must do if they are a bystander or victim of hazing, harassment, intimidation, or bullying," she said.
Police and the school, about 60 miles from New York City, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
Four students were suspended late last year, NBC New York reported. School administrators handed down the suspensions immediately after allegations of hazing were reported and then again about a week later.
The high school's athletic director was also placed on administrative leave, multiple coaches were suspended, and games were canceled, NBC New York reported.