Two days after authorities in DuPage County announced charges against five Wheaton College football players stemming from a hazing incident that injured a teammate in 2016, the lawyer for the highest-profile player among the accused spoke out on Wednesday.
Attorney Mark Sutter is representing 21-year-old defensive lineman Noah Spielman, the son of Chris Spielman, a former Ohio State University standout, Pro Bowl NFL linebacker and current FOX Sports analyst.
Sutter said Spielman was “frustrated” and “disappointed” by the felony charges of aggravated battery, unlawful restraint and mob action.
“This is something that has been lingering for over a year and a half,” Sutter said at a news conference, adding that the case had been “handled internally” following investigations by the school and the NCAA.
“I certainly anticipate a not-guilty verdict, or some type of resolution that makes sense for all parties,” Sutter said.
Spielman’s attorney was not the only one to note the 18-month delay between the alleged hazing on March 19, 2016, and the issuance of arrest warrants on Monday. The case has drawn national attention to Wheaton College — a Christian school with the fourth-ranked Division III football program in the country — and raised questions about how the college handled the case.
Also charged are players James W. Cooksey, a 22-year-old from Jacksonville, Florida; Samuel J. TeBos, a 22-year-old from Allendale, Michigan; Kyler S. Kregel, a 21-year-old from Grand Rapids, Michigan; Benjamin Pettway, a 21-year-old from Lookout Mount, Georgia, according to a statement from the city of Wheaton.
Spielman, from Columbus, Ohio, turned himself in to police on Tuesday, as did Kregel. They were released on $50,000 bonds, according to the DuPage County Sheriff’s Office. Wheaton police Chief James Volpe told the Daily Herald he expects the others to turn themselves in by Friday.
If convicted, each player could face up to five years in prison.
Kregel’s attorney, Christine Field, said he “will definitely enter a plea of not guilty” at an Oct. 23 arraignment date.
Spielman was “frustrated” by the charges, according to his attorney, Mark Sutter, who said the issue had been “handled internally” following investigations by the school and the NCAA.
The players who were charged were declared “inactive for practice or competition by the college’s administration and coaching staff,” according to a school statement. Three of the five played in a game last weekend for Wheaton, which is ranked fourth in the nation in Division III college football.
Wheaton College spokeswoman LaTonya Taylor said in an email that the school took “swift action” to investigate the allegations after the incident was brought to administrators’ attention by other football team members and coaches soon after it happened.
Police were first called about 11:20 p.m. the night of the hazing, when one alleged victim showed up at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield.
He and another player, who is still on the team, had been left tied up on a baseball field as part of the hazing, police said.
The second player never contacted authorities or asked them to investigate. Police said he had a “much different experience” than the player who was hospitalized, a 19-year-old transfer student from Indiana, police told the Daily Herald, a Chicago Sun-Times news partner.
About 10 p.m., the injured player had been in a dorm watching television when the senior football players tackled him, bound his legs and wrists with duct tape, put a pillow case over his head and placed him in the back seat of a vehicle, police said.
The seniors played music in the vehicle that suggested the freshman had been taken by foreign extremists who planned to sexually violate him, according to Terry Ekl, the injured player’s attorney. The 10-minute ordeal left him with torn shoulder muscles that have required three surgeries, Ekl said.
The injured player was able to free himself when one of the older players loosened the tape on his wrists, Ekl said. He then contacted police, and has since transferred to another school.
“This has had a devastating effect on my life. What was done to me should never occur in connection with participation in a football program or any other activity,” the player said in a statement provided by Ekl.
Taylor, the college’s spokeswoman, said the school’s investigation found conduct that was “entirely unacceptable and inconsistent with the values we share as human beings and as members of an academic community that espouses to live according to our Community Covenant.”
“We are profoundly saddened that any member of our community could be mistreated in any way,” she said.
The allegations prompted the school to hire an independent, third-party investigator to look into the accusations and took “a range of corrective actions,” Taylor said.
The college withheld the details of its discipline, citing federal student privacy protections, but said the board of trustees launched a review of its anti-hazing policy.
“I question at this point whether the school handled this in an appropriate and serious manner or whether this was something they just wanted to go away,” Ekl told ABC7, another Sun-Times news partner. “Where’s the discipline? Suspension from school. Kicked out of school. Suspended from the football team. Kicked off the football team. None of those things happened.”