Hayden Law enforcement officials are again investigating a hazing incident involving Hayden High School students.
The most recent incident is suspected of taking place June 6, when police said four Hayden seniors hit seven freshmen with an object that has been described both as a paddle and a club. The apparatus reportedly was made in a high school wood shop class.
On Monday, Hayden police turned over the criminal investigation to District Attorney Bonnie Roesink in Craig.
The four seniors face potential charges of third degree assault and criminal harassment, but the use of a diversion program is likely to replace criminal proceedings, Roesink said. Police withheld the students' names because they are all younger than 18. At least one of the victims was reported to have welts from the beating, but Roesink said there were no serious injuries as a result of the hazing.
Hayden police Chief Ray Birch said the hazing took place at about 3 p.m. at Hayden Town Park. At that time, the four seniors are said to have approached the seven freshmen and encouraged them to participate in the hazing ritual, warning them that if they told anyone about it, they would be punished "10 to 20 times worse."
Birch said the freshmen were then struck on the buttocks with the paddle, which is 23 inches long, 5 inches wide, and 1 inch thick. The paddle is in the shape of an arm and hand, with the arm serving as the handle and the hand - which has holes drilled into it - used as the point of contact. One side of the paddle reads "Class of '08."
Someone who saw the incident while passing the park alerted police, Birch said.
The suspected incident follows a March 2006 hazing in which Hayden High School students branded younger students with a heated wire coat hanger at a party. Four Hayden teens were sentenced to five days in jail in that case.
The accused in this case, however, may enter a diversion program instead of facing criminal proceedings, Roesink said. The 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office has a diversion program for first-time juvenile offenders. The program requires juveniles admit guilt, sign a contract, perform community service and be monitored by a diversion officer, among other things.
This case would require the implementation of a new diversion program, but Roesink said it would be similar to the current one and may be more appropriate than criminal proceedings.
"If these were very serious bodily injuries, we wouldn't be considering this," she said Tuesday.
The hope is that a diversion program may have a better educational and long-term effect on hazing in Hayden, which both Roesink and Birch said is an ongoing and deep-rooted problem in the community.
"I think it's a systemic problem that's been around for years," Roesink said.
Birch said hazing of this nature exists because parents, teachers and students permit it to, and that the community needs to start treating it with zero tolerance rather than as a harmless prank.
"The community needs to stand up," Birch said.
Birch said hazing has been going on in Hayden for so long that some of the parents of the students he interviewed throughout the investigation were victims of it as well.
"Me, as the chief of police and a member of this community, would obviously like to see this behavior stop immediately," Birch said. "It became pretty obvious over the course of the investigation that something has to be done to stop it."
Birch said older students haze to earn "respect" through violent intimidation and that the younger students submit to it because they see it as a requirement to be accepted socially and as members of athletic teams, particularly football.
Hayden School District Superintendent Mike Luppes said there are currently numerous programs in place to discourage hazing. Whether those programs need to be supplemented or revamped is something the district will consider, Luppes said.
"We'll be looking at any moves we can make to make sure this isn't happening," Luppes said. "Anything having to do with hazing, the district is solidly against."
Luppes said paddling is not a problem he has been aware of before this case.
The high school's wood shop teacher, Jeff Steinsberger, said he would not allow a paddle to be made in class and did not think something as elaborate as the paddle allegedly used in the hazing could be made in his class without his noticing it.
"I'm not saying 100 percent that it didn't come from the wood shop, but I can tell you 100 percent I didn't know about it," Steinsberger said.
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