No charges in Cambridge 'hazing' incident

No charges in Cambridge 'hazing' incident

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Cambridge Public Schools upperclassmen investigated for hazing younger high school students will not be prosecuted, the Adams County Attorney said Monday.

The incident happened during a wrestling camp at Hastings College for high school athletes June 29-July 1.

The older boys placed doughnuts on their genitals and made the younger ones eat the doughnuts while others watched, according to multiple sources including a friend of one of the boys' families who asked not to be named.

County Attorney Donna Fegler Daiss said Nebraska law requires an incident to involve college students to be prosecuted as hazing and does not apply to high school students.

“If it were not because of, in my opinion, a defect in the statute that limits it to post-secondary institutions, this would be hazing 100 percent,” she said in a telephone interview Monday afternoon.

“If the law doesn’t make it a crime, it’s not a crime. You can’t just charge something because you think their behavior is incorrect.”

Fegler Daiss thinks it’s a distinction state legislators should revisit.

“If this had happened while they were freshmen in college, it would be hazing. But because they are seniors in high school, it is not hazing. And I’m not sure I understand that difference,” she said.

Fegler Daiss said she can't prosecute the teenagers for sexual assault because she'd have to prove they did what they are suspected of doing for sexual gratification, and that doesn’t appear to be the case.

“That is an element we have to prove. When you read all the reports in the totality of it, I don’t believe that (sexual gratification) was the purpose of this behavior,” she said. “The purpose of the behavior had to do with the hazing activity.”

Fegler Daiss declined to discuss the details of the incident.

The Nebraska State Patrol examined a phone belonging to one of the students who watched, but found no photos or video of the incident.

Cambridge Superintendent Robert Gregory said in a news release that the district respects the decision of the Adams County Attorney.

Gregory also said the district "cannot permit our students to participate in, or be subject to hazing of any kind."

"We will continue to respond to such incidents in a serious manner for the safety and security of all our students," he said.

Gregory did not respond to an email asking for specifics about how the incident was handled and how hazing will be prevented in the future.

On Tuesday, he sent out a news release saying the district has been addressing the issue for the past two months.

"We have offered both educational and healing activities to the student body and more importantly to all individuals of this incident," he said in the release. "We have brought in professional organizations from the state and county levels to meet with our student body. We have employed a licensed individual mental health practitioner to meet with our students either individually or as a group on an as-needed basis."

Gregory also said the district is in contact with nationally known hazing organizations in hopes of offering students skills they need to avoid participation in hazing, get themselves out of such events if they occur and to whom they should report such conduct.

Gregory said students involved in the incident have been disciplined but didn't say what that entailed.

"I will not divulge what those consequence were or offer any interviews," he said. "Once again, I encourage everyone to respect the privacy of those individuals involved and allow the students, the school district and the community to heal."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7304 or nbergin@journalstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ljsbergin.

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