By Calvin Palmer
Seven Morton Ranch High School cheerleaders, from Katy, Texas, have been indicted by a Harris County grand jury on charges accusing them of illegally hazing other cheerleaders.
The misdemeanor indictments were issued today, accusing the cheerleaders of restraining several junior varsity cheerleaders, blindfolding them, binding their hands and pushing them into a swimming pool on July 25.
One 15-year-old recalled: “I could hear some of the other members yelling, ‘I can’t swim. Stop. Please don’t push me in.'”
Katy school district officials launched an investigation during which cheerleading activities were suspended. After the investigation was concluded, cheerleading at Morton Ranch High School was suspended for the school year.
If the girls thought that was an end to the matter, they were clearly mistaken. It now appears they will go before a court.
Seven members of the varsity squad, ages 17 and 18, were charged as adults with hazing, a Class B misdemeanor that could bring a maximum six-month jail sentence and a $2,000 fine upon conviction.
Five more cheerleaders, all minors, may still face prosecution in juvenile court, said Tucker Graves, an attorney representing one of the girls.
Named in the indictments were Kelly Buffa, Haley Davis, Kirsten Davis and Madison Tanner, all 17; and 18-year-olds Hannah Cochran, Adelynn Garner and Meigan Goff.
The defendants, all of whom still attend class, are expected to surrender to authorities as their cases move through the criminal justice system.
“This is what we’ve been waiting for,” said Diane De La Cruz, mother of Laura De La Cruz, 15, one of the junior varsity cheerleaders. “We are thankful that the grand jury came up with an indictment because we have known all along that the (varsity) girls were guilty of hazing.”
Some parents of JV cheerleaders said their daughters have been harassed at school during the hazing investigation.
“The victims in this case are being treated like guilty parties,” said David Cruz, whose daughter, Danielle, was listed as a victim in the case.
Kim Armstrong, the mother of another JV cheerleader, said she voiced concerns about harassment to school officials.
“They haven’t given us any assurance that our kids will be safe,” Armstrong said.
School officials did not respond Wednesday to inquiries about the parents’ concerns.
“Frankly,” said Casie Gotro, an attorney representing defendant Kirsten Davis, “I don’t think anybody should have been indicted. It’s been blown way out of proportion.”
Gotro said her client got lost and wasn’t present when the younger girls allegedly were pushed into the pool.
“Nobody got hurt,” said Allen Isbell, attorney for Kelly Buffa. Isbell said his client didn’t push anyone into the pool.
Robert Fickman, attorney for Adelynn Garner, said his client is “contrite.”
National experts on hazing say the activity, which can leave its victims scarred for life, has grown more severe in recent decades.
“There has been a natural negative evolution,” said Cincinnati lawyer Gary Powell, who for two decades edited a newsletter for schools and fraternities. “It’s more creative, and, unfortunately, more violent.”
Chicago psychologist Jean Alberti termed hazing “child abuse by children.”
“If it happened to an adult,” she said, “it would be called assault, battery, robbery — all life-threatening stuff. Until we call it ‘child abuse,’ we won’t generate the outrage to change it. (Youths) think it’s funny, parents think it’s funny. They think it’s normal adolescent development, but this is an aberration. It didn’t happen 30 or 40 years ago. Now we have video on YouTube showing girls kicking other girls in the head.”