Initial court appearance of Nathaniel William Thomas, 17, who was charged with several felony counts in a case which began with allegations of hazing at Hamilton High School in Chandler. Maricopa County Superior Court
Steve Belles, the head football coach at Chandler Hamilton High School, has been reassigned as head football coach and teacher at Hamilton, according to the Chandler Unified School District.
During the term of the reassignment, Belles will not be present on the Hamilton High School campus. The reassignment is indefinite in length and is not disciplinary, according to the district, but CUSD spokesman Terry Locke said there is a chance Belles could return as coach and teacher.
This comes less than a week after six Hamilton football players were arrested in connection with hazing incidents during a 17-month span.
Three of the players were charged, one as an adult.
Belles led Hamilton to five Arizona Big Schools state championships since he took over in 2006 from John Wrenn.
Belles did not return messages, nor did Hamilton Principal Ken James or Athletic Director Shawn Rustad.
Nathaniel William Thomas, 17, was charged by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office on Wednesday with one count of sexual assault, three counts of aggravated assault, three counts of kidnapping and two counts of molestation.
The charges relate to attacks on three teammates on school property. According to materials provided by the Maricopa County Superior Court, prosecutors said Thomas used his finger to molest one teammate and attempted to do so to two others.
Thomas’ attorney, Ken Countryman, said at the teen’s initial court appearance at 2 a.m. Friday that Thomas vehemently denied the allegations and has not admitted to anything. Countryman described the high-school junior as a good student who held a job and had strong family support.
In addition to Thomas, two 16-year-old suspects also were arrested in connection with the case. They have been charged as juveniles, with counts of kidnapping, aggravated assault and assault. Because they have been charged as juveniles, their names are not being released.
Thomas was taken into custody at the school by Chandler police with five other students earlier this week. Prosecutors continue to investigate a charge that Chandler police are seeking against a 15-year-old player believed to be involved. Two other players arrested have since been released.
Police said they were alerted by a third party in February to alleged crimes described as being part of a 17-month-long hazing incident at the school.
Police said the crimes impacted “multiple male victims” on the high school’s football team. The series of related crimes likely occurred on school grounds, located at Arizona Avenue and Ocotillo Road, police said.
Thomas, a student at both Hamilton and Chief Hill Learning Academy, was listed as a defensive back on the 2016 Hamilton football roster but was not among regular starters.
According to police records released Friday, witnesses or the victim received threats of violence if they tried to report the crime.
Chandler police believe there is a possibility other victims may exist and have urged those with information about the case to call 480-782-4130.
Letter from Chandler Unified School District superintendent
To Hamilton High School Parents,
This is the most difficult letter I have ever needed to write. The recent reports surrounding the Hamilton High School football program have left us all stunned. I know you need/want information and I wish I had more to share. We are fully cooperating with the Chandler Police Department. I know you join us in wanting all the facts and to make sure that there is a thorough investigation of the allegations. We are in daily contact with the Police Department and are told the investigation will take time as it is very complex.
It is so troubling to learn that we have had students who have felt unsafe and vulnerable. Our prayers are with them and the entire community. We will get to the bottom of this and, more importantly, will take whatever corrective action is necessary.
I ask each of you to join me in remembering just how extraordinary Hamilton High is and has been since its doors opened in 1998. They have distinguished themselves in every aspect of high school life. The successes, honors, and accomplishments are unprecedented in this State and across the nation. They are, and will remain, a premier high school.
During the most difficult moments I remind myself that an individual or group does not define who HHS is, nor does it minimize what they have accomplished. Most importantly, the Hamilton community is resilient and there is no doubt in my mind that they will overcome this adversity and be stronger.
Right now they need our support and the Governing Board, Administration, and entire District stand behind them as we patiently wait for the Chandler Police Department and the County Attorney to complete their work.
Camille Casteel Ed.D
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