The main argument in the Tamaqua football hazing lawsuit is that school officials participated in a cover-up that adversely affected the victims in this alleged assault.
Last week, the fathers of 2 Tamaqua Area High School football players say their sons were sexually assaulted in what’s known as the Football House filed a federal civil suit against the district, school board members, and several top members of the district’s administration.
The lawsuit argues that school officials knew that the Football House was a place of unsupervised activity for students and did nothing to prevent their sons from being assaulted back in November 2021.
Further, the fathers allege in their lawsuit that school officials participated in a cover-up to deny them justice they believe they’re due, and to protect certain members of the school community.
Even though the incident happened in November, and several students were ultimately expelled from Tamaqua Area following internal disciplinary hearings, it took just around this lawsuit’s filing to have formal criminal charges brought against one of the students allegedly involved in the incident last year.
Tamaqua Football Hazing Lawsuit Alleges Cover-Up Among School Officials
According to the lawsuit filed in US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, underclassmen members of the Tamaqua football team in 2021, identified as AM and TK, were lured and confronted in the Football House – an off-campus building the district purchased to serve as a quasi-locker room and storage facility for its football team – on the night of Nov. 4.
The football team had just finished its post-practice dinner at the school cafeteria. AM was told to carry a Gatorade jug back to the Football House. When he got there, he was rushed by several members of the football team. The lawsuit claims that 3 students worked to pin him down and attempt to insert a banana in his anus. AM says his attackers were interrupted and he managed to get away but was punched in the face several times.
Later that night, TK was allegedly lured to the Football House by some of the same attackers, where they once again tried to sexually assault him. They again failed, according to the lawsuit.
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AM’s Attack Reported to Tamaqua School Officials
AM says when he first saw his father after the attack in the Football House, he told him what happened. AM’s father immediately contacted Tamaqua Area athletic director Mike Hromyak to get the phone number of the head football coach, Sam Bonner.
AM’s father, SM, claims he called Bonner that same night and reported the alleged sexual assault on his son. SM says he then spoke on the phone with Nick Boyle, vice president of the Tamaqua Area school board, and told him about the assault, too.
Boyle reportedly told SM that he “was going to make some calls and then check back” with him, according to court documents.
Meanwhile, Tamaqua Area High School principal Tom McCabe called SM. Again, SM told McCabe about the alleged assault on his son.
Now, by 8:30 p.m., SM says Tamaqua PD got involved, interviewing AM at school property. During this interview, Tamaqua Area Assistant Superintendent Stephen Toth was present, the lawsuit claims.
TK Reports Attack the Next Morning
The second alleged victim in this hazing incident says he went to McCabe at school the following morning to report the attack on him. However, McCabe was “too busy to meet with him,” the argument from TK reads in the court documents.
TK and his father, identified as SK in the lawsuit, say they went to McCabe’s office after school hours to discuss the events of the previous night at the Football House.
At McCabe’s office, the 3 allegedly review security footage obtained from the cafeteria the previous night. Apparently that video shows several Tamaqua football players conspiring to steal TK’s bag. That bag was the lure to get TK to the Football House.
The lawsuit claims TK didn’t put his extra equipment and personal belongings in the Football House because of its reputation for the very thing that prompted this lawsuit.
TK and McCabe reportedly identified the perpetrators who took his bag and got him to go to the Football House, where he’d soon be attacked, the lawsuit argues.
Also during this meeting, TK was asked by McCabe to provide a written statement describing what had happened the night before in the Football House.
Later on the 5th, SM says McCabe called him to say that the school was conducting interviews per AM’s accusations.
“A few hours later, McCabe reported to SM that one perpetrator confessed and that officials collected multiple statements implicating at least three Tamaqua students,” the lawsuit reads.
A week after the initial report, on Nov. 11, SM says Toth called him and asked if he and McCabe could get a written statement from his son. SM says he gave them a copy of the written statement AM gave to police a week prior.
After the initial reports and subsequent actions were taken, the fathers of the alleged victims say that’s when the cover-up started among school officials.
Barring the Accusers from Meetings and Hearings
One of the persistent arguments spelled out in the lawsuit is that the accusers in this case were barred from attending some meetings and hearings. They point the finger at Kinder for these actions. And they say it happened several times.
On Nov. 16, the school board held a disciplinary hearing for one of the students who was at least present during the alleged assault. SM and AM say they tried to be present for this hearing, believing it is within their rights to be present.
However, they say Kinder told them they couldn’t be at the disciplinary hearing. They say the Superintendent told them to leave and that “they were prohibited by federal law from knowing the outcome of the hearing,” according to the lawsuit.
On the 18th, the school board held a disciplinary hearing for a student identified as ZM, of the alleged attackers on AM. And once again, SM and AM tried to be present for that hearing but they met the same resistance from Kinder. This time, Kinder put SM and AM in a separate room at the school while the hearing was happening.
They say Kinder came back to the room a time later and asked the accusers to leave. SM and AM objected and said they wanted a chance to tell the school board their side of the story. They say Kinder said it wouldn’t be possible for them to talk to the school board.
“Kinder stated that AM had no right to know the outcome of ZM’s hearing,” the lawsuit alleges.
This same sequence also happened for a disciplinary hearing on the 18th for TO, another of those students accused of attacking AM.
SM says he learned that while they were cordoned off from the disciplinary hearings the school board had decided to let ZM and TO stay enrolled at Tamaqua Area.
“SM and AM were not permitted to have any input into the consequences for AM’s sexual assaulters,” the lawsuit claims.
During that special school board meeting on Nov. 22, SM says Kinder tried to prevent he and SK from attending on behalf of their sons.
“Upon arrival, Kinder removed SM and SK from the meeting,” the lawsuit states. “Kinder separated SM and SK, placing them each in different classrooms.”
That’s apparently when the issue of the banana – the one used in the alleged attack at the Football House – came up. SM says he was alone with Kinder and the Superintendent allegedly called AM a liar. Kinder said there was “no evidence that any bananas were present” or used in the alleged attack.
The Superintendent also allegedly accused SM of “manufacturing AM’s allegations and writing AM’s statement for him,” the fathers claim in their lawsuit. “Kinder falsely argued that AM’s story had repeatedly changed.”
The following day, SM says he emailed Kinder, cc’ing Toth, Wittig, and Boyle. SM’s email requested that Kinder recuse himself from the school’s investigation into the allegations.
SM says, “Kinder responded that he would recuse from the investigation but, due to his position as Superintendent, would nevertheless remain involved in other aspects of the process.”
That same day, SM says he got a call from Toth, asking for permission for himself and McCabe to speak with AM about his accusation. SM requested to be present for the interview via speakerphone. During the call, Toth and McCabe asked AM who had allegedly threatened and assaulted him with a banana. AM identified ZM.
LK in School?
LK is identified as another of the alleged attackers on AM. On Nov. 22, weeks after the incident, AM says he was surprised to see LK in school. SM says Toth and McCabe told him that LK had been suspended, pending the result of a disciplinary hearing that hadn’t taken place as of that date.
SM says that the school didn’t suspend LK, even though school officials told him that he would be out of school.
“Tamaqua officials also took no action to separate AM from LK during the school day,” the lawsuit reads. “Over SM’s objection, LK continued to attend classes with AM.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege that LK was protected from any disciplinary action “because his mother is a teacher” at Tamaqua.
Inconsistent Statements from Tamaqua School Board
Further, the parents allege that school board president made some misleading public statements at the height of the controversy that didn’t accurately reflect the nature of the incident.
In the lawsuit, they point to two instances in particular:
- At the Nov. 22 school board meeting, they say Wittig said, “There’s no sexual connotation to any of the charges. There is no sexual assault … The sexual part of this is not true … The rumors are not true.”
- And regarding social media chatter about the incident, Wittig said (per the lawsuit), “I would suggest the people who perpetrate these social media blasts lawyer up, because if I was them, I’d be all over it.”
Cover-Up Accusations Against Tamaqua Area School Officials
The lawsuit accuses Tamaqua Area school officials of participating in a cover-up that essentially protected the alleged attackers and treated the alleged victims differently. It accuses the district and officials of deliberate indifference to the alleged victims.
This indifference and a seeming unwillingness to take action against the alleged attackers led to more harassment and bullying, the lawsuit alleges.
“Tamaqua Area officials took no action to properly investigate or institute corrective action designed to prevent future assaults,” the lawsuit reads. “To the contrary, Tamaqua Area officials conspired to hide the truth, referring to the incidents as “hazing” and “horseplay” protecting the assaulters, and either ignoring or attacking the victims.”
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