Juveniles face charges for party
Hayden teens to confront counts of assault in branding case
April 19, 2006
Steamboat Springs — Three Hayden teens have been charged with multiple counts of assault with a deadly weapon in a case involving the branding of fellow students.
According to court documents, one of the teens is charged with six counts of first-degree assault, another is charged with five counts of first-degree assault and a third student is charged with two counts of first-degree assault.
A fourth Hayden High School student, Willy Najera, 18, has been charged with one count of first-degree assault and one count of menacing.
The charges stem from a March 11 party at a home in Hayden. About 15 juveniles were at the party, and some drank alcohol, Hayden police Chief Jody Lenahan has said. During the party, some boys were branded by a coat hanger. Police have said that some of the boys wanted to be branded and that others were held down and branded against their will.
Hayden police learned about the incident two days later, when school officials reported it to them.
Steamboat Springs attorney Larry Combs, who represents one of the Hayden teens, said Wednesday that the District Attorney’s Office overreacted by issuing first-degree assault charges. Combs’ client was 17 when the alleged incidents occurred but since has turned 18.
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“I don’t think the facts justify the charges,” Combs said. “Many objects can become a deadly object if you use it with that intent and also the intent of inflicting serious bodily injury.”
The intentions of the involved parties, the circumstances in which the activities took place and the degree of injury will be important factors as the case progresses, Combs said.
“It gets to the point of voluntary, consensual participation,” Combs said. “It’s like, ‘Can you do me next?’
“Most of these kids grew up together,” Combs said. “They’re not malicious and mean and hurtful toward each other.”
For some of the students involved, Combs said, the branding is a “badge of honor.”
“If you’re on the students’ level of perception, it’s a part of growing up,” Combs said. “If you are on the adult perspective, you just can’t understand it.”
On Tuesday, Najera, a senior at Hayden High School, described the brandings as an initiation for the younger students. Najera said he and others were paddled as freshmen and that initiation rituals are fairly common. Najera, who denied branding anyone, said some of the boys may have taken initiation too far.
Routt County Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James is handling the case, but would not comment about it because it involves juveniles.
According to court records, the three juveniles are scheduled to appear in court June 30. Najera is scheduled to appear May 2.