SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - An investigation into sexual hazing in southeast Idaho that has embroiled a member of Boise State University’s powerhouse football team has grown to include more victims, authorities said on Thursday.
Three college football players and two others are facing a raft of sexual crime, battery and false imprisonment charges stemming from incidents at a high school in Blackfoot, Idaho, last year, according to court documents.
Police say the five athletes forcibly penetrated fellow members of the high school basketball team and battered and restrained the victims in a locker room and on a school bus during a three-month period that began last December.
Charged are Anthony Clarke, now a freshman wide receiver at Boise State University, Nathan Walker, a tight end for the Idaho State University Bengals, Logan Chidester, a freshman on the football team at Carroll College in Montana and Tyson Katseanes of Blackfoot, all 19.
A fifth, unnamed defendant has been charged as a juvenile in the case.
Blackfoot Police Captain Kurt Asmus said on Thursday that law enforcement officials had contacted additional victims since charges were filed earlier this month based on allegations made by four people.
“It has mushroomed from there,” Asmus said. “Now that everything is out, more victims are coming forward because they realize they are not alone and they don’t need to be afraid or embarrassed.”
He said authorities are tracking leads in other states and that additional charges were likely.
University officials were reluctant to comment on the players, all of whom have been suspended from their teams. Frank Zang, spokesman for Boise State, said Clarke, a freshman walk-on, had yet to play in the 2010 season.
Boise State, which plays on its signature blue painted field, was ranked among the top ten teams in the nation at the end of the regular season.
Blackfoot residents and officials say the lurid allegations of sexual hazing have divided the farming community of 11,000 about 20 miles south of Idaho Falls, Idaho, where the defendants were star athletes who excelled at multiple sports, including varsity football and basketball.
“This has impacted us harshly on all sides of the issue: the defendants, the victims, the families,” said Blackfoot School District Superintendent Scott Crane. “We’re a small town and it is very difficult to deal with.”
Crane said most school systems have established strict policies on hazing and bullying in recent years, with research pointing to the psychological damage those practices inflict.
A benchmark University of Maine study in 2008 revealed 47 percent of students enrolling in college had experienced hazing in high school and that 55 percent of college students involved in clubs, teams and organizations had been hazed.
That study echoed the findings in 2000 of Norman Pollard of Alfred University, showing that a quarter of high school athletes surveyed were subject to dangerous or life-threatening hazing, which compared to 45 percent who reported hazing they considered humiliating.
Attorney Stephen Blazer, who represents Walker, said the rush to judgment is damaging his client and the other teens.
“These kids are being hung out to dry,” he said. “It’s been put way out of proportion. There are a lot of unfounded rumors and accusations that have no basis in fact.”
But Bingham County Deputy Prosecutor Randy Smith said he will prove that the victims, all members of the boys basketball team, suffered, and some more than once.
“Hazing is an inadequate term since it wasn’t a once-and-done kind of thing but an over-and-over kind of thing, with one victim experiencing it multiple times,” he said.
In Idaho, a conviction on forcible sexual penetration with a foreign object can bring a life sentence.
An Idaho judge on Thursday denied Smith’s motion to seal police reports and other information in the case.
Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Greg McCune