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Charges considered in Barnesville hazing incident

BARNESVILLE — Barnesville High School students are being investigated after a hazing incident — believed to be an initiation ritual for a freshman football player — apparently went too far.

The juvenile victim was not injured, but witnesses and some who have viewed a video recording of the incident found the behavior — including allegedly threatening him with a vehicle and pointing a crossbow at him — inappropriate.

“Essentially Friday night (Oct. 1) at Barnesville High School at the back parking lot, sometimes the kids would go out there and hang out after football games,” Barnesville Police Chief Rocky Sirianni said. “Initially I think it was just some of the older kids messing with one of the younger kids, then I think things progressed way too far. … Somebody there had witnessed what had happened. They thought it went too far.

“I agree it did go too far. They contacted the juvenile’s parents and he reported to us the following day, and that’s when we started our investigation.

Sirianni said the incident started out as a fairly innocuous encounter, with the teen being driven around in the back of a pickup truck. But the situation intensified from that point.

“There were some things that happened that definitely shouldn’t have happened. No, no one was physically injured, but the kid was shook up and it was more than what he thought was going to happen,” Sirianni said. “It was something he kind of expected was going to happen, and he didn’t expect it to go as far as it did. It went way too far. It went from just some older kids messing with a younger kid, and he maybe expected that to happen and was going along with it, but it went to a place where it shouldn’t have went.”

The chief said at one point the participants backed a truck close to the victim and gave the impression a strap would be attached to him and the truck would pull him. A crossbow was also pointed at the teen.

“The crossbow was not loaded, but that would still be scary for the kid because obviously he wouldn’t know if it was loaded or not,” Sirianni said. “There was a truck involved and he was tied to a pole and they had backed the truck close to the pole and was revving the engine up.”

He said the entire incident occurred in the space of about 10 minutes.

“We’ve concluded the investigation on our part and have turned it over to the (Belmont County) prosecutor’s office,” he said. “I’ve been in contact with the prosecutor’s office, and ultimately they’ll be the ones to determine (charges).”

Sirianni was unsure of the exact number of participants, but he said officers took statements from eight “witnesses and involved parties.” Charges were recommended against two: the driver of the truck and the participant who pointed the crossbow. He said one of them is 18 years old.

Sirianni added he believed charges would likely fall under the Ohio Revised Code’s penalties for hazing and result in low-level misdemeanor counts.

The ORC states that hazing has occurred when someone is “coerced” into “any act of initiation into any student or other organization or any act to continue or reinstate membership in or affiliation with any student or other organization that causes or creates a substantial risk of causing mental or physical harm to any person.”

The code classifies this as a misdemeanor of the second degree, but Sirianni said this only took effect Oct. 7 — after the incident at the high school. Therefore, he said any criminal charge would qualify for a lower-level misdemeanor.

“That change in the law went into effect after this offense had occurred,” Sirianni said. “If it had happened after a certain date, it would have been a higher level misdemeanor.”

He added that the school district is also investigating and pursuing disciplinary action against the students who were involved, including those whose action did not rise to a criminal level.

“You hear that stuff like this has happened in the past and you hope just by it being brought to our attention now and steps being taken now, and steps being taken in the legal process and our involvement, I hope that it’s something that can be prevented from happening in the future,” Sirianni added.

Belmont County Prosecutor Kevin Flanagan said Tuesday that his office was considering the report and would announce this week whether charges would be filed.

“We are looking at one juvenile and one adult for the possibility of a criminal charge,” he said. “There were a number of people involved, but not everybody was committing criminal acts. Actually some of the people involved came to the rescue of the young man.”

The teen victim’s father spoke with Times Leader. He said the situation is highly unsatisfactory, adding that his son remains shaken by the incident. He termed a low-level misdemeanor charge a “slap on the wrist” and said harsher penalties are warranted. He said these occurrences inspire a lack of trust in the community and the justice system.

The Barnesville Exempted Village School District superintendent’s office could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

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