Ex-Plainfield Central football players file lawsuit over hazing, sexual assault allegations

Lawsuit concerns allegations of ‘code blue’ hazing practice

The parents of two former Plainfield Central High School football players are suing the school district and coaches over allegations that their children were subjected to hazing and sexual assault.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court on Monday against Plainfield School District 202 and Plainfield Central football coaches Michael Moderhack, Jon Pereiro and Vincent Vasquez.

The lawsuit alleges an incident from Oct. 17, 2019, where two freshmen members of the football team were surrounded by older team members, pinned to the ground and penetrated with a broomstick, according to a statement released by the law firm Romanucci and Blandin.

“There were no coaches present in the locker room at the time, despite the requirement to do so and despite the coaches’ prior knowledge that this type of hazing had been a common behavior by team members since at least 2014,” the law firm’s statement said.

The statement said District 202 officials were not transparent in communicating about discipline for the students or coaches involved and did not properly report or investigate the incident.

District 202 spokesman Tom Hernandez said district officials do not comment on pending litigation and have not seen or reviewed the lawsuit yet.

In 2019, four Plainfield Central students were charged with battery in connection with the incident following an investigation by Plainfield police. Will County State’s Attorney spokeswoman Carole Cheney said at the time that the police were directly charging the four minors and the case had not been brought to their office for review.

Email from Plainfield District 202 Superintendent Lane Abrell said the Plainfield Central High School administration was investigating a potential hazing situation within the football program. The school's assistant principal communicated with the football coach regarding a Snapchat message.

Bhavani Raveendran, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the misdemeanor charges were not upgraded.

“We, at this time, know the prosecutors face very different legal definitions and elements that we would not be required to address in the civil case,” Raveendran said.

Cheney claimed the office had no information on the case, saying, “We have no records of this matter.”

Plainfield police Cmdr. Ken Ruggles said the juvenile cases have all been “expunged in accordance with Illinois juvenile law.”

At a news conference Monday, attorney Antonio Romanucci claimed Plainfield Central and the school’s football coaches were “complicit in allowing varsity football players to prey on young children in the hopes to achieve a bonding experience and for the sake of a winning football record.”

Ian Fallon, another attorney, said the school district knew that a practice known as “code blue” was “happening in their locker rooms.”

The lawsuit alleged “code blue” refers to a hazing ritual where varsity members of the football team select freshmen members to harass or assault in a locker room.

“Under Illinois law, that violates the law and no student should have to suffer from that physical and emotional trauma just to participate in high school sports,” Fallon said.

Fallon said it was the “school district itself that allows this to happen.”

“It was the school district itself that was the driving force of the injuries to our plaintiffs here because they failed to eradicate this bonding practice, this rite of initiation, this prerequisite to playing football at Plainfield Central,” Fallon said.

Raveendran said her firm’s clients continue to experience distress, embarrassment and humiliation from the incident. She said they have been humiliated, teased and ostracized by their teammates and students, as well as by strangers in the Plainfield community.

“The minor plaintiffs could not escape constant reminders and harassment after the incident had occurred. Mental and emotional trauma from both the incident and the aftermath will follow them throughout their lives,” Raveendran said.

In 2019, district superintendent Lane Abrell released a timeline on how the incident was investigated.

About 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, “players, or student athletes that were victims” reported an “incident” to a football coach, Abrell said. About a half hour later, Abrell said, the head football coach contacted the school’s athletic director, who in turn alerted a vice principal.

Plainfield School District 202, covid-19, vaccine, face masks

The school’s principal also was notified, Abrell said.

Abrell said he received a call informing him of the situation about 6:45 p.m.

A meeting was held with the alleged victims, Abrell said, and the police were contacted at 7 a.m. Friday, Oct. 18, 2019.

School officials started a parallel investigation, Abrell said, and the alleged victims, witnesses and potential “offenders” were interviewed.

Plainfield police said in a news release that investigators “determined the initial allegation of a ‘hazing incident’ does not meet the statutory definition of Hazing ... as it was not part of an induction process and no bodily harm occurred.” Ruggles said the investigation of the incident yielded “no evidence of a sex crime.”

The Plainfield Police Department on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017, in Plainfield, Ill