Coach charged in alleged hazing incident
PORTLAND — A volunteer football coach and six players for a small town Oregon high school team face criminal charges for a hazing initiation in which 11 freshmen at a summer training camp had intimate parts of their bodies "aggressively targeted," a prosecutor said Tuesday.
The Philomath High School volunteer coach, Cooper Kikuta, has been charged with misdemeanor criminal mistreatment, punishable by up to a year in jail, and the players who allegedly hazed the freshmen are accused of juvenile crimes similar to adult charges of misdemeanor harassment and assault, said Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson.
Haroldson said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that sexual abuse charges were not filed because he "didn't see any evidence in the case to indicate that the touching was done for purposes of sexual arousal, but rather it was done in a hazing context."
The alleged hazing happened during the football team's July trip to Camp Rilea on Oregon's northern coast, Haroldson said. The players were targeted "as a form of initiation" and one of the alleged victims was grabbed and held down twice, said Haroldson, the Corvallis Gazette-Times reported.
Kikuta, 22, previously played on the Philomath team.
"The basis of the charge is that he withheld care for the kids that he was supervising," Haroldson said Tuesday. "This occurred in his presence."
Public records show Kikuta lives in Corvallis, home to Oregon State University. He does not have a listed phone number and did not immediately reply to a Facebook message seeking comment.
Kikuta does not have a criminal record in Oregon, according to state records. Haroldson did not immediately respond to a telephone message inquiring if Kikuta has a lawyer who could comment on his behalf.
Philomath, population about 4,500, was a timber town for generations but has undergone a transformation as the lumber industry declined and was the subject of the 2006 documentary "Clear Cut: The Story of Philomath, Oregon" about the clash of cultures hitting the community amid an economic transition driven by technology.
Haroldson declined comment on who reported the hazing and would not say whether authorities believe it was an annual initiation ritual for the team. The intimate areas of the victims that were touched included their genitals and anuses.
"One of the critical points here is ensuring that we're not continuing to have hazing in this football program," Haroldson said in the newspaper's report. "It ends now."
The announcement of charges followed weeks of uncertainty about the team after Philomath school officials canceled the first three games, citing an investigation into unspecified football camp misconduct.
The fourth game of the season is scheduled for Sept. 23 but officials are still "continuing to assess if, or when, the varsity team will begin competing," Superintendent Melissa Goff said in statement.
She said families of students identified as possible victims were given information about mental health providers and coaches are being required to take new training on prevention of bullying, harassment, and hazing. Teachers and staff members will take child sexual abuse prevention training in September, she added.
"We take hazing and bullying issues very seriously, and we have no tolerance whatsoever for the type of allegations raised in this investigation," Goff said.