VHS hazing defendant sentenced

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The oldest suspect in the 2010 sexual hazing case at Valencia High School was sentenced Tuesday to an undetermined amount of supervised probation in Valencia County District Court.

Curtis Peralta, 20, faces supervised probation of up to 18 months. Peralta pleaded guilty to two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor in August 2011.

He pleaded guilty to the lesser counts in exchange for the dismissal of the remaining charges, which included one count of aiding or abetting criminal sexual penetration, one count of aiding or abetting criminal sexual penetration of a minor, conspiracy to commit criminal sexual penetration and conspiracy to commit criminal sexual contact of a minor.

His two co-defendants, Jeremiah Carroll and Jake Sanchez, entered no contest pleas to aggravated battery in September 2012. They were sentenced in November to supervised probation.

District Court Judge George Eichwald gave them the option to choose between serving 200 hours of community service at a landfill or work with the New Mexico Activities Association to develop a bullying/hazing policy.

The three were accused of sexually assaulting another member of the school's football team while he was getting dressed after practice.

District Court Judge William Sanchez sentenced Peralta to a conditional discharge and to serve a probationary period with the New Mexico Department of Probation and Parole. The amount of time Peralta will be required to serve will be up to the state probation department.

The prosecutor in the case, Anne Keener, recommended probation and commended Peralta's "willingness and courage" after he cooperated with the state on the investigation.

Keener said Peralta was the only defendant who admitted his mistakes and took responsibility for his role in the crime. She said the incident doesn't reflect "who he is," and also noted he had no prior criminal history before the incident.

"I believe that when someone takes responsibility, they should be rewarded," Keener said.

Keener was so complimentary of Peralta that at one point, the judge said, "Sounds like we have three defense attorneys" in reference to the prosecutor's positive remarks.

During the August 2011 hearing, Peralta told the judge 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 said he saw Sanchez slide his hand back and forth in (the victim's) butt crack."

Michael Griego, one of Peralta's defense attorneys, said his client went though a lot during the whole process. He said Peralta had to give up opportunities such as being considered for a special medical program because of high marks he received in the classroom.

"He was ostracized from the school," Griego said. "He had to leave the school and transfer to another high school. He had to leave his team in the middle of their playoff run at Valencia High School and stop his football career."

During Tuesday's hearing, Peralta apologized to the victim and the victim's family.

"I want to apologize to (the victim and his family)," Peralta said. "I am deeply sorry for what happened. I take responsibility for my actions. I have learned my lesson and never will be in trouble again. This experience has humbled me and I just plan to get ready to move on with my life."

Peralta's father, Johnny, said facts of the case have been misconstrued over time and said the incident resembled more of an "old-fashioned dog pile" more than sexual hazing.

He said the victim was fully clothed at the time and laughed off the incident.

According to police reports, at least four of the football players interviewed suggested the victim was frustrated over not getting enough playing time and may have exaggerated the incident as a way of getting more playing time.

According to a police report, one player told investigators that "(the victim) stated he was going to tell his father that he wanted to play in the games more. He stated the next day, his father sent a letter to someone requesting that his son should get more playing time during football games. He stated the next day, all of the interviews with the school resource officers began."

Johnny Peralta agrees the victim's father was upset over the lack of playing time his son was getting.

"This guy was after the coach," Peralta said. "He was unhappy that his son wasn't playing. There are emails to prove it."

A federal civil lawsuit, filed by a parent of the victim against the Los Lunas School Board of Education in March 2011, was recently dismissed after a settlement was reached in December 2012.

According to Los Lunas Schools Superintendent Bernard Saiz, the family of the victim was awarded $250,000 as a result of the settlement. The district paid the settlement through the New Mexico Public Schools Insurance Authority.

Saiz said the settlement cost less than what it could have had the case moved forward.

"I'm glad the case is over," Saiz said. "It caused a lot of hurt for those involved at all levels. I'm glad it's done and we can move forward."

Judge Sanchez said he agreed with the state's recommendation for probation. He said more people should have been aware of the Robertson High School hazing case, a 2008 case where victims were alleged to be raped with broomsticks at a football camp.

"Seeing the situation in Las Vegas (New Mexico) should have opened the eyes of all athletes across the state," Sanchez said. "To see something like this to occur after the incident, I'm just not sure if we are making progress in informing athletes that there are certain bounds that you shouldn't cross. This was a serious incident.

To your credit, you have come forth and you've acknowledged your mistake," Sanchez told Peralta.


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