Wheaton College sued for negligence concerning campus hazing culture

March 22 2018
On Friday, March 16 2018, Charles Nagy sued Wheaton College and 7 former Wheaton football players for perpetuating a culture that allowed the 2016 hazing incident to occur.
The seven players charged in the civil litigation are Benjamin Pettway, Samuel TeBos, James Cooksey, Kyler Kregler, Daniel Ibsen, Nick Blazeck, and Tyler Sigler. Four of these defendants, Pettway, Tebos, Cooksey, and Kregel, are also facing felony charges. Noah Spielman is also facing felony charges, but information has not been divulged as to why he has not been charged in the civil case.
At a hearing Wednesday, March 14 preceding the civil suit, attorneys representing Kregel, Spielman, TeBos, Pettway and Cooksey pushed to receive Nagy’s medical records to prove that he had a pre-existing injury before the incident in March 2016. According to the Chicago Tribune, Nagy’s lawyer Terry Ekl handed over the records during a hearing last Wednesday saying “We’re willing to turn these over because they don’t show anything,” Ekl said afterward. “There’s no pre-existing shoulder injury.”
The Chicago Tribune broke the news of the civil suit two days later on March 16. The plaintiff, Charles Nagy, filed a civil suit against Wheaton College accusing the college of willful and wanton conduct, as well as negligence. Nagy seeks damages in excess of 50,000 dollars.
“We take the allegation that any member of our community has been mistreated in any way to be a matter of grave concern,” Wheaton explained in a statement released to the college community, “We strongly deny that the College has allowed a permissive environment of hazing or violence, and are confident that it will not be found to have legal responsibility.”
According to the complaint filed by Nagy and Ekl, Wheaton College is accused of knowing about the hazing culture within the football team, perpetuating the culture by neglecting to stop hazing rituals and attempting a cover-up of the 2016 incident in which Nagy was the victim.
Paul DeLuca, one of the attorneys representing Kregel, gave insight to the Record into the legal process and expectations throughout the entire case. Although the civil lawsuit has no implication on the criminal charges DeLuca said that he was still interested in determining Ekl’s strategy. DeLuca stated that “One of our questions was why it took so long, and now we know the answer was because a lawsuit was brewing.”
The complaint claims that players, coaches and the athletic department were aware of the kidnapping practice known as “grabbing” or “nabbing” that was practiced by team members for a decade or more prior to March 2016. It also cites 3 other hazing incidents that resulted in the Wheaton Police Department being called, and in one case, injuries that prevented a team member from playing. Furthermore, it accuses security officers, employees and resident assistants in Traber Hall at the time of the incident of failing to intervene.
Part of the complaint mentioned a Wheaton Record article published in the news section online in Dec. 2015. The article discussed a movement on the part of Residence Life to be more “intentional” about educating the campus about hazing, choosing to crack down all forms of hazing.
The quote used in the complaint was an opinion presented by a anonymous football player who said, “‘Just by avoiding “hazing” or what one may think is “hazing” and initiations … one won’t be able to ever get out of their comfort zone and throw their self-pride away and feel what it is like to humble oneself to the team. Alumni ask if Wheaton Football has changed, and while I believe Wheaton football’s mission has not changed, the experience has, unfortunately.” The hazing ritual of kidnapping is not mentioned in that article.
“Given the pervasive and continuous nature of the hazing ritual of kidnaping freshman football players, well known among current and former players, parents of players and even known and discussed among dorm security and the student body in student publications to be well established in the culture and norms of the football program over a lengthy period of time, officials and/or administrators of the Defendant, Wheaton College, including but not limited to the head football coach, Mike Swider, actually knew about it, or should have known but for deliberately turning a blind eye to it,” the complaint states.
According to Wheaton College’s Director of Legal Affairs Bryan Seiler, “The College fundamentally disagrees with many of the contentions in the complaint and expects that the legal process will demonstrate that the legal claims against the College and the argument that the College condones or ignores hazing are without merit.”
Seiler told the Record that the college was aware of the possibility of a civil litigation, but did not know of the official filing until alerted by the media earlier last week. The next step will be for Wheaton to file a response to the complaint.
According to Professor at the Wheaton Center for Faith, Politics, and Economics David Iglesias, who has worked as the chief legal counsel for the State of New Mexico’s Risk Management Division, Nagy must prove that “1) there was a duty of care owed to him 2) That duty was breached by defendant college and players; and 3) that breach of duty proximately caused his damages.”
Iglesias explained that most civil cases are resolved before going to trial through appropriate motions or a monetary settlement. The legal process will likely take at least two years.
When asked his perspective on the case, Head Football Coach Mike Swider referred to part of the statement released by Wheaton: “We feel strongly that the suit is not reflective of the culture that we have built on our team and in the broader community. The success of our football program is built on mutual respect and Christ-centered interactions and experiences — and that extends beyond the football field. We are steadfast in our dedication to the prevention of any hazing or hazing-related activities.”
“I feel like [hazing] is still a problem,” explained sophomore Brittany Bradley, “We don’t know the entire bit of the stories, but I do think Wheaton takes a very laid-back approach to the way that they discipline people and I feel like they could definitely be a lot more firm-footed.”
“I think the school has done a really good job in putting together the hazing task force in order to find new ways to really combat the hazing on campus … there are definitely still ways that progress can be made, but I am really proud of how the school has responded thus far,” said Sophomore Davis Gibson.
 

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