A former football player from Warren De La Salle High School is suing the police over their handling of the 2019 hazing scandal that triggered charges against seven athletes — all of them Black.
The lawsuit alleges that police targeted only Black athletes for actions that also involved white players, and, went out of their way to protect an elite white varsity player from getting charged in the scandal so as not to interfere with his football scholarship at a Big Ten university.
As a result, multiple Black athletes lost their football scholarships and had their reputations tarnished — even though the charges were dropped — and the accused white athlete went on to play college football at Ohio State.
He was never investigated or charged, despite allegations that he was “the main one” involved in a hazing incident, the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in US District Court, says.
“The more I research this, the more I’m appalled at the blatant and overt abuse of power to hurt Black children,” attorney Todd Perkins told the Free Press on Tuesday. “And it is specifically pointed at Black children because they are the only ones charged. It continues to hurt. It continues to pain. And it continues to anger me.”
Perkins is representing 19-year-old Cleveland Harville, one of seven students charged with misdemeanors in 2020 over allegations that they held younger athletes down on the locker room floor at the all-boys Catholic high school, then prodded them with broomsticks outside their clothing .
These allegations led to the powerhouse De La Salle football team abruptly ending its 2019 season on the eve of the playoffs, and costing it another shot at a state championship.
Harville has long denied the allegations, noting he wasn’t on the football team nor a student at De La Salle the year the allegations surfaced. Nor was he on the team the year before, when a younger player alleges Cleveland put him in a headlock while others “broomsticked” him during a team dinner on Sept. 5, 2019.
Police knew this accusation “was implausible, if not impossible” because Harville wasn’t a student or football player at De La Salle on Sept. 5, 2019, the lawsuit states. He had left the school before that, his lawyers said.
Still, Harville was charged, before those charges were eventually dropped.
“He didn’t deserve this,” Perkins said. “He just didn’t deserve this.”
And neither did the others, according to the lawsuit, which accuses the Warren police of engaging in “malicious prosecution.”
“An independent, third-party investigation found no player at-fault and suggested the actions taken against the Black and brown players had racial implications and undertones,” the lawsuit says. “(The police) only investigated and charged Black and brown players, not similarly situated white players … Had (Cleveland) been white, he would not have been investigated, charged with a crime, arrested, or detained.”
As of late Tuesday afternoon, Warren Police Commissioner Bill Dwyer said he had not yet seen the lawsuit, but defended his department’s handling of the investigation.
“I adamantly deny that we were racist in this investigation. Everyone was treated fairly,” Dwyer said. “We conducted a very thorough investigation. We looked at anyone we had information on. We presented our findings to the St. Clair (County) prosecutor. And that was it.”
Dwyer declined to comment further, citing the pending litigation.
More:Code of silence reigns amid scandals, misbehavior at all-boys Catholic schools
Warren De La Salle has previously defended its handling of the allegations, which led to the firing of the head football coach — a move that caused an uproar among many angry parents and students who blasted the school president for ousting the winner of four state titles. The school president, John Knight, also was subsequently fired, largely over his handling of the hazing scandal.
After reaching a confidential settlement with three of the suspended football players, the school issued this statement:
“This has been a learning experience for our school, and we have made corrective actions to ensure the alleged hazing activities never happen again. We hope and pray that our students, parents and the community also take this as an opportunity to learn how to recognize inappropriate behaviors and report them accordingly.”
According to the lawsuit, police and school officials, here are the scenes that unfolded in 2019 when the De La Salle football team abruptly ended its season on the eve of the playoffs:
On Oct. 31, 2019, Warren police learned of a possible hazing incident that occurred several weeks prior involving a varsity football player who alleged that he was held down on the locker room floor while others poked him with a broomstick over his clothing.
This hazing tradition, known as “broomsticking,” allegedly took place in the locker rooms after team dinners on the eve of Friday night football games.
School officials had alerted the police about the allegations and forfeited the football team’s playoff game the very next day.
School officials also conducted their own investigation and obtained dozens of written statements from various members of the varsity football team, which were later provided to the Warren police.
Warren De La Salle also suspended three players accused of the hazing — all of them minorities.
Initially, none of the written statements implied the plaintiff as he was not enrolled at De La Salle, nor a member of the football team at the time of the alleged assaults.
Meanwhile, a police investigation got underway. In four days, police interviewed 60 witnesses, including students, parents, staff, administration and others about the alleged hazing. None of them identified the plaintiff, the lawsuit states.
It wasn’t until Nov. 5, 2019, that Cleveland Harville’s name surfaced, after a football player told a detective that while he had never been “broomsticked,” another former player named “Cleveland” tried to do it after a team dinner but was unsuccessful.
Three days later, police prepared felony warrants for three Black teen players: RP, JC and JS, according to records.
Cleveland Harville was not among them.
Police presented the warrant requests to former Macomb County Prosecutor Erik Smith, who referred the matter to the St. Clair County Prosecutor because of a potential conflict: one of the accusers was the son of a Macomb County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney.
Two months later, the three suspended players for whom warrants were sought, returned to school following a confidential lawsuit settlement that was reached with the all-boys Catholic school.
Then came a meeting between the police, the parents and students reportedly involved in the alleged hazing. It was at this meeting that a second accuser surfaced, telling police that he initially lied about not being assaulted. His parents wanted charges filed.
Police forwarded the new details to the prosecutor, who decided not to authorize any charges related to the alleged hazing incident.
Still, the police continued their investigation, focusing on the accused Black teens.
On Jan. 29, 2020, a football player identified in records as CB, told police he saw a player get hazed on Sept. 21, 2020. That same day, the alleged victim provided a written statement to police alleging he was hazed by five Black teammates one year earlier, and that he witnessed another teammate getting assaulted that same day.
Cleveland, though, was not mentioned as he was not enrolled at De La Salle at that time, nor on the football team.
Then came a conflicting statement from one of the accusers.
Again on Jan. 29, 2020, that accuser told detectives that Cleveland placed him in a “reverse headlock while several unidentified teammates placed (him) on the ground and struck him with a broomstick in the locker room after the team dinner.”
The accuser explained that “he lied to (police) when they spoke to him before about Cleveland because ‘I was embarrassed and afraid to tell my parents the truth,’ ” the lawsuit says.
But then came more statements, from more football players, who told police that they had witnessed JH’s assault. None mentioned Cleveland, but instead said that a white football player was the “main person” in the Sept. 5, 2019, assault.
However, police never investigated or charged the accused white player, but remained focused on the Black athletes, the lawsuit states.
Moreover, none of the investigators spoke to Cleveland or his parents about the allegations, nor was he ever interviewed.
Still, the lawsuit alleges, the police prepared and presented felony warrant requests to the the St. Clair County prosecutor for Cleveland and multiple other Black and brown teens accused of hazing.
The prosecutor again chose not to charge the students.
However, the police still chose to swear out misdemeanor complaints in 37th District Court against Cleveland Harville and others.
Judgment warrants followed.
Harville turned himself in, had a mugshot taken, was fingerprinted, processed, and detained.
The case triggered a lot of publicity, and ended the boy’s football career.
According to his lawyer, Harville did not play football again after leaving the Warren De La Salle program his junior year.
“Colleges which had expressed interest in (Cleveland) stopped communications, and offers to further his football and educational opportunities were withdrawn,” the lawsuit says, adding the actions of the police were “willful or with reckless or wanton disregard of (Harville’s) constitutional rights.”
Contact Tresa Baldas: email@example.com