Berkeley board named in hazing suit

October 24, 1997


Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Three Hedgesville High School Band members attending a band camp were forced to pose in sexually explicit positions, according to allegations in a suit filed in U.S. District Court.

The suit was filed on Oct. 16 against the Berkeley County Board of Education, and present and former school officials. It was filed four days before the school board approved an update of its policy on harassment and violence.

The suit, filed by attorney Richard Douglas, does not name the plaintiffs, except to identify three sets of parents by their first names and the victims by their initials, according to court records.


In addition to the school board, the suit names former superintendent James Bennett, former Hedgesville High School principal Frank Aliveto and band director Gary Marvel. The suit also lists as defendants three people referred to as John Doe and three referred to as Jane Doe. The six served as band camp chaperones, according to the suit.

Douglas could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Claudia Bentley, the attorney for the school board, said she had not seen the suit, but "the school board intends to offer a defense to this action."

In court records, the suit claims that the incident occurred during a band camp held Aug. 11-16 at Camp Pinnacle in Hardy County, W.Va. The suit claims one of the plaintiffs was forced by senior students on Aug. 15 to portray a prostitute in a hazing incident.

The student was subjected to "degradation and humiliation, was photographed and otherwise assaulted and battered," according to allegations contained in the suit.

On Aug. 16, the other two students listed as plaintiffs were "being forced to assume degrading and sexually explicit positions, simulating sexual acts," the suit alleges. The suit claims the alleged incident was photographed.

The suit alleges that the pictures eventually became known to Marvel who destroyed the photos, which the suit said had evidentiary value.

The suit claims the plaintiffs had their rights violated and that the defendants were negligent in not preventing the hazing. The suit said the defendants "by virtue of past experience with similar band camps knew, or should have known, that the ... plaintiffs would be subjected to harassment."

The children suffered physical and mental suffering and the parents incurred medical expenses for the treatment of the children, the suit said.

The suit asks for punitive and compensatory damages.

"My only comment is that our attorney will make whatever responses there are on this matter," said school board president Bill Sonnik. Marvel and Aliveto, who is now assistant superintendent for instruction for the school system, also deferred comment to the attorney.

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