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Alleged hazing victim files lawsuit against Wheaton College, football players

iStock/Thinkstock
iStock/Thinkstock

(WHEATON, Ill.) –The Wheaton College transfer student who accused members of that Christian school’s football team of a brutal assault during a hazing incident has filed a lawsuit against the college and members of the team.

Charles Nagy, who was new to the football team, alleged that in March 2016, he was forcibly taken from his room by other players who put a pillowcase over his head and “secured it with duct tape,” then “violently” pulled his arms behind him with his wrists and ankles duct-taped. He also claimed that the players threatened him with sexual assault and left him partially naked on a baseball field with two dislocated shoulders.

The incident attracted widespread attention because of the viciousness of the alleged assault and the fact that the school’s investigation led to what some perceived as minimal punishment. Local authorities charged the five football players with felonies including aggravated battery and unlawful restraint in September 2017.

All five pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges.

Now, in the lawsuit filed Saturday against Wheaton and members of the football team, Nagy’s lawyer claims that hazing, including the practice of “kidnapping,” was an “open secret” at the school and among its football coaches.

The suit alleges the practice was “well established in the culture and norms of the football program.”

To protect that culture, the suit alleges that the head football coach, Mike Swider, tried to “control” Nagy after the incident “to conceal the fact that the hazing occurred.”

It claims that Wheaton and its employees were “deliberately indifferent to the risks” of hazing, that the school turned “a blind eye” to the practice and deliberately failed “to meaningfully investigate and discipline students” engaged in this ritual. For example, the suit claims that school security personnel “observed and were aware of” Nagy being forcibly removed from his dorm but did nothing.

Pat Provencale, an attorney for Nagy, told ABC News: “There are two very disturbing things here. There’s the one thing that the kids thought this was OK to do. And then there’s the reason they thought it was OK. … These young men would never have thought something like this was OK unless it was well-established and accepted within the program.”

Wheaton’s “negligence” and “willful and wanton conduct” the suit claims, has caused Nagy “to suffer … permanent and severe injuries.”

Wheaton released a statement acknowledging it is a defendant in the lawsuit and saying: “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. Wheaton College is committed to providing Christ-centered education in a positive environment for every student.”

Nagy is suing the school for “a sum in excess of $50,000” as well as each of seven players who he claims were involved. But Provencale said “that is the amount required by Illinois law” in an initial filing of this type. Later in the legal process, he said they will amend the complaint “to include compensatory and punitive damages.”

“I would not be surprised if it isn’t north of $1 million where the school is concerned,” he added.

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