Two plead in 2010 VHS sexual hazing case

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The final two suspects in the Valencia High School sexual hazing case pleaded no contest to aggravated battery charges Thursday in Valencia County District Court.

Jake Sanchez and Jeremiah Carroll, now both 19, each pleaded no contest to aggravated battery, a lesser charge than what they were initially indicted on last year for their role in the hazing case. They are expected to be sentenced as juveniles in the next 30 days.

The aggravated battery allegation was a new charge that was not included in the original grand jury indictment.

The men, along with Curtis Peralta, were indicted on charges of criminal sexual penetration and conspiracy after they were accused of holding down a fellow varsity football teammate and rubbing his bare buttocks in October 2010.

The former Valencia High School football players are accused of sexually assaulting another member of the school's football team while he was getting dressed after practice.

The 13th Judicial District Attorney's Office offered Sanchez and Carroll plea deals in exchange for the dismissal of the remaining charges.

District Attorney Lemuel Martinez said his office initially thought there was enough evidence to prosecute the men on charges of criminal sexual penetration before opting to offer the plea deals.

"The reason we (amended the charges) is because we really don't believe these (people) are sexual predators," Martinez said. "We believe that it was like a one-time thing that occurred on the football team.

"What we wanted the whole time is for them to take responsibility for what they did," the district attorney said.

Martinez said the pleas took the burden off the men to potentially require them to register as sex offenders had they been found guilty at trial.

Sanchez and Carroll could face penalties that range from probation to being taken into the custody of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department until they are 21.

In August 2011, Peralta pleaded guilty to two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor in a plea and disposition agreement with the district attorney's office. He is expected to be sentenced as an adult in November. Each charge carries a penalty of up to 18 months in prison.

Peralta told the judge during his plea hearing that he, Carroll and Sanchez snuck up on the victim and forced him to the floor of the locker room. He said the group "twisted (the victim's) nipples, slapped his butt and taunted him" and he saw Sanchez slide his hand back and forth in (the victim's) butt crack.

Peralta told the judge that everyone was fully clothed at the time of the incident.

But according to a police report, the hazing escalated to the point where someone's bare buttocks were shoved in the victim's face and that one of the defendants "pulled his pants down and rubbed (the victim's) bare buttocks."

The victim's father, who is not being identified, called Thursday's plea deals "acceptable."

"If they weren't guilty, then why did they plea?" he said.

The victim's father said he is proud of his son for calling attention to the incident. He said he and his family were prepared for a trial for what he said was "a very serious mistake."

"In the end, the truth prevailed," he said.

Following a preliminary investigation performed by the district's school resource officers, four upperclassmen, including Peralta, Sanchez and Carroll, were suspended from school, and three possible victims were subsequently interviewed by the New Mexico State Police.

The allegations surfaced in November 2010 when the victim, then a sophomore member of the VHS football team, told school authorities that he had been sexually assaulted in the school's locker room on or about Oct. 2, 2010.

The victim's family has filed a federal civil lawsuit against the Los Lunas Board of Education and several coaches.

Earlier this year a federal judge, comparing the danger posed by teenagers to that of a "loose dog," ruled that a lawsuit alleging that senior football players hazed younger players can go forward.

The victim's parents filed the lawsuit on behalf of their son based on the 2010 incident.

The lawsuit alleges three seniors attacked the victim after practice when all players were in the locker room. They allegedly held him down while physically and sexually battering him.

The defense sought to have the complaint dismissed, claiming immunity under the state Tort Claims Act because there were insufficient factual allegations to sustain the claim.

U.S. District Judge James O. Browning said in the opinion that the allegations in the complaint go beyond negligent supervision and adequately allege that the defendants knew or should have known of the dangerous conditions in part because of the widespread publicity about the 2008 hazing attacks of multiple members of the Las Vegas High School football team.

The parents' lawsuit contends other players were similarly attacked, two of the assistant coaches were parents of players involved, coaches were present in another area of the locker room when the attack occurred, and Los Lunas officials failed to educate the team about hazing even though the Las Vegas events put them on notice that hazing could be dangerous.

"Football coaches read sports pages and know what is going on with other football teams that are highly publicized," Browning said, adding that he could infer that Los Lunas coaches would have known about the Las Vegas football incident. "…When they hear of trouble, it is reasonable to expect coaches to confront it."


-- Email the author at bruffner@news-bulletin.com.