Indiana News

Grand Jury to Hear Carmel Locker-Room Hazing Case

Hendricks County prosecutors conducting separate probe of second hazing claim

4/27/2010

A Hamilton County grand jury will decide whether to indict a Carmel High School student in a locker room hazing incident.

Prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp says grand jury secrecy rules bar her from confirming the hazing case is the subject of the grand jury's work. But she says the panel convened April 21.
 
Leerkamp says she turns to a grand jury in cases in which witnesses' statements need to be pinned down under oath, or to help compel witnesses to testify. She says she's also used grand juries in cases where she feels the community's guidance is needed on whether charges should be filed.

Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council executive director Stephen J. Johnson says the idea of an independent citizens' voice on whether to file charges is a common rationale for grand jury investigations, with police-action shootings a frequent example.

In the Carmel case, another factor may be confidentiality. Prosecutors, school officials and Carmel police have released little information about the locker-room accusations and a separate investigation of an incident on the basketball team bus. In both cases, the city of Carmel released only heavily blacked-out versions of the police reports.

Grand jury testimony remains secret unless charges are filed. Johnson says prosecutors sometimes refer to a grand jury as a "sword and shield." Investigation targets are shielded from public scrutiny if the grand jury does not find probable cause for an indictment, but the panel also wields a sword in the form of broad subpoena power. The resulting sworn testimony can generally be admitted in court even if the witness changes his story later.

The bus incident is being investigated by Hendricks County prosecutors, after investigators concluded that's where the bus was at the time. On the surface, what's known about the two cases appears similar -- both have been broadly classified as hazing or bullying, and the accuser in the locker room case reportedly came forward after word of the bus incident. Johnson says differences in the specifics of the cases may account for the use of the grand jury in one case but not the other.

Both Leerkamp and Hendricks County Prosecutor Patricia Baldwin had said they hoped to reach a decision by the end of April, but have now pushed that timeline back to mid-May. Leerkamp says each piece of additional information gathered can raise additional questions and extend an investigation.
 
The bus incident is said to have taken place January 22. The locker-room case allegedly happened two weeks earlier, but was reported after the bus accusations began to circulate.
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