IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

'No evidence of hazing' at country's top-ranked high school football program, prosecutor says

The top prosecutor in Orange County, California, took the unusual step of challenging a former student-athlete’s allegation that he was victimized by an initiation ritual at Mater Dei High School.
Image: Mater Dei High School
Mater Dei High School players stretch before a game against St. John Bosco High School in Santa Ana, Calif., on April 17.John W. McDonough / Sports Illustrated via Getty Images file

A Southern California prosecutor has declined to press charges against anyone involved in an alleged hazing incident inside the locker room of America's top-ranked high school football program.

Not only did Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer opt against pursuing a criminal case Tuesday, but he also — by his own admission — took the unusual step of publicly picking apart the allegations against Mater Dei High School.

While he decried a beating that apparently unfolded in the Mater Dei locker room in Santa Ana on Feb. 4, Spitzer said in a statement that the incident was clearly a fight between mutually willing combatants. Spitzer said it has been “so erroneously reported” that it was a case of hazing.

While he said the district attorney’s office does not normally comment on investigations involving juveniles, he asserted: "There is not a single shred of evidence to show that this was anything other than a mutual combat situation with two willing participants who traded blow for blow, including repeated punches to each other’s heads. That does not make it acceptable. But it is not a crime." 

Spitzer added: “At this point, there is no evidence of hazing or any other crime that we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Last week, a teenager said in a lawsuit against Mater Dei and the Catholic Diocese of Orange that he suffered brain damage and other injuries.

The anonymous plaintiff, a former student-athlete at Mater Dei who was born in 2004, said he was subjected to a game of “Bodies,” which is alleged to be a Mater Dei ritual in which one student punches another as many times as possible before the person surrenders.

The plaintiff was struck multiple times in the face and the head, leading to permanent scars and a “traumatic brain injury” marked by “pain, slurred speech and cognitive dysfunction,” the lawsuit claims.

Michael Reck, an attorney for the boy, declined to criticize Spitzer but said the lawsuit will move forward.

“This courageous boy did not come forward to see another child prosecuted. That is between the DA and the other kids," Reck said. "He came forward to change the culture at Mater Dei that created and allowed this violence to proliferate."

The Rev. Walter Jenkins, the president of Mater Dei, announced Tuesday that the school "will engage an outside and independent firm to investigate student safety practices specifically within our athletic programs."

"First and foremost, let me reiterate my commitment to ensuring the safety of our students," Jenkins said in a statement. "Let me assure you, that those of you who expressed concern as to how the school would respond — I’ve heard you."

The civil action, which seeks unspecified damages, involves one of the country’s most powerful high school football programs, which has produced two Heisman Trophy winners and many NFL players.

Mater Dei is the country's top-rated football team, according to rankings by USA Today and the high school sports website MaxPreps.

The Monarchs won the Southern Section Division I title Friday, defeating Orange County rival Servite High School, 27-7.

Mater Dei is set to play Serra High School of San Mateo on Dec. 11 for the California Interscholastic Federation State Open Division championship. Serra is best known as the alma mater of six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady and all-time home run king Barry Bonds.