A high school athletic director and several football coaches have been suspended after a horrific hazing incident captured on cell phone video came to light. Wall High School athletic director Tom Ridoux was placed on administrative leave after a video emerged showing six football players pinning down and assaulting a younger student as he begged for them to stop. Three coaches have also been suspended, and a school board member has resigned. But there’s now evidence that this wasn’t an isolated incident. In the years leading up to the hazing incident, the school reported 43 bullying, harassment, and intimidation incidents to the state.
New Jersey has some of the strongest anti-bullying laws in the country, but it’s unclear whether these regulations deter bad behavior. Hazing can range from making people embarrass themselves to forced drug consumption and even death. According to public comment at a recent Wall Township Public Schools Board meeting, the high school has struggled with hazing for years. One Wall High alumnus told the board that he had been dragged across a locker room floor more than two decades ago. When he reported the assault, he said, the administration didn’t do anything.
The mother of a former student with Down syndrome said football players forced her son to perform a sexual act. When reported, she alleges, the school swept it under the rug. A student who graduated from Wall last year said that the incidents “speak to a larger corrupt pattern of administration shrugging off incidents in order to save face and protect those they deem most valuable students.”
The school ended its football season early in response to the hazing investigation, but the disturbing video has parents wondering whether their children are safe at school. In the clip, a football player is seen holding a broomstick and threatening to sexually assault the younger student. Additionally, police are investigating unrelated sexual assaults involving Wall students. It’s unclear how many students have been abused or who is responsible.
Legal Options for New Jersey Hazing Incidents
In August, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill in honor of Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old Penn State student who died in 2017 after falling down the stairs at a fraternity house during a hazing ritual. The law requires middle schools, high schools, colleges, and universities to adopt anti-hazing policies and create penalties for students who haze. The governor also increased the criminal ramifications for hazing crimes. Hazing that causes serious injury or death is now a third-degree crime and can carry a prison sentence of five years. The law doesn’t take effect until March, so it’s not yet known whether those involved with the Wall hazing incident will face stiffer punishment.
When parents send their children to school, they trust that they won’t undergo any abuse. Educational institutions have a responsibility to protect their students from bullying and hazing, and there’s reason to believe that Wall High School did not meet this duty. The investigation is in its early stages, and more information will emerge in the weeks ahead.
The effects of hazing aren’t just physical. Even if someone escapes a hazing incident with no medical injuries, they may still experience lifelong problems. Students who have been victims of hazing report long-term consequences like substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, low self-esteem, and a decline in academic performance.
Under the law that goes into effect next year, a conviction will carry a fine of up to $15,000. But hazing perpetrators and those that cover it up are liable for much more when sued in court, and there’s precedent for New Jersey hazing lawsuits. Earlier this year, a former Blair Academy wrestling team member accused the school of laughing off hazing and sexual assault incidents as “rites of passage.” Blair, which is consistently ranked as the best boarding school in New Jersey, is attempting to settle the lawsuit in arbitration.
If injuries result from hazing — physical, emotional, or mental — the victim can pursue damages in court. Wall High School students affected by these recent bullying and hazing incidents should talk to an attorney to discuss their legal options. D’Arcy Johnson Day handles institutional abuse, including hazing crimes. If you or someone you know has been affected by hazing, contact our firm today for a confidential consultation at (866) 327-2952.
As a partner with D'Arcy Johnson Day, Andrew D'Arcy has been involved in some of the nation’s most high-profile cases and investigations. His practice includes serious automobile accidents, medical malpractice, wrongful death and product defect cases. Andrew has been personally responsible for numerous multi-million dollar settlements and verdicts on behalf of his clients. He has been recognized by his peers as an "AV" rated attorney, the highest possible rating given by Martindale-Hubbell publication. Andrew has been named a "Super Lawyer" by New Jersey Monthly magazine each year consistently since 2013.