Charges dismissed against 7 students in Warren De La Salle hazing case

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Charges against seven Warren De La Salle Collegiate High School students accused in an October 2019 football hazing incident have been dropped, according to officials who believe the issues have been adequately addressed.

The allegations concerned a student who reported he had been held to the floor of a locker room at a team dinner and assaulted with a broom.

After the allegations surfaced and police began an investigation, students believed to have been involved were suspended. The team forfeited its Michigan high school playoff game and both the team coach and school president lost their jobs.

St. Clair County Prosecutor Michael Wendling said the decision to dismiss charges came after consultation with defendants and victims, their parents; school officials and police.

“We were satisfied that all of those involved had met certain conditions, including anti-bullying classes, apologizing to victims, writing essays on how they planned to contribute to society in the future, and completing school classes without any further difficulty,” said Wendling. “We think they and De La Salle have all learned from this experience.”

Wendling said there were two known victims but likely had been others who had also been through the hazing at some point over the course of several weeks or months. The prosecutor said the investigation was hampered at times by school officials failing to provide reports or materials, including surveillance videos, which could have helped identify persons leaving or exiting the locker room area.

He said officials were reluctant to provide some materials without permission of parents and in some cases, the suspected victims did not want to cooperate with the investigation. At least two defendants are still attending De La Salle.

Warren Police Commissioner William Dwyer said he had talked to Wendling and felt dropping the charges was “the right thing to do.”

“I don’t have any problems with this,” said Dwyer.

“After talking with the prosecutor, I learned all of the students who were involved have gone through anti-bullying classes and apologized," Dwyer said. "They have been on probation without any problems and I think the majority have graduated from high school and are now attending college.” 

“We weren’t out to destroy the lives of any young men but had a duty to investigate and report the matter because it was a crime.”

Dwyer said the students were all facing misdemeanor offenses punishable by up to 93 days in jail. The St. Clair County Prosecutor's Office handled the case because of a perceived conflict of interest in the Macomb County Prosecutor's Office involving a senior prosecuting attorney.

“This would have gone to trial in March if not for delays due to the COVID virus,” Dwyer said. "Matters have been resolved."

Larry Rancilio, president of the 600-student school, said there is now a zero tolerance policy regarding hazing or bullying at De La Salle.

"We learned a lot and are committed to improving the lives of students and helping them grow and move forward," said Rancilio. "We are pleased by this week's decision and eager to put this all behind us."

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