Ex-Maine West soccer coach found not guilty of hazing, battery - FOX 32 News Chicago

Ex-Maine West soccer coach found not guilty of hazing, battery

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SKOKIE, Ill. (Sun-Times Media Wire) -

The former soccer coach at Maine West High School was found not guilty of hazing and battery charges Wednesday, the Sun-Times reports.

Earlier Wednesday, Cook County Judge Jeffrey L. Warnick also dismissed charges of failing to report alleged hazing, saying the abused child law used by prosecutors in their case against Michael Divincenzo does not apply to acts committed by students upon other students.

The law also doesn't require a defendant to report his own alleged wrongdoing, the judge said. Such a requirement would violate constitutional protections against self-incrimination, he said.

Divincenzo's lawyers had asked Warnick last month to find Divincenzo not guilty of sanctioning a hazing culture among the soccer players he coached at Maine West High School in Des Plaines.

Defense attorney Todd Pugh summed up the case against Divincenzo, 37, of Elk Grove Village this way: Boys are gross.

"These were definitely boys," said Pugh, who appealed to Warnick's personal knowledge that boys sometimes do "gross, disgusting" things.

Such a request is routine in criminal cases after prosecutors rest. But in an unusual move, the judge said Dec. 19 he'd put Divincenzo's bench trial in Skokie on hold until Wednesday to consider it.

Several current and former Maine West soccer players testified in front of Warnick about the apparent cycle of hazing on the varsity team at the school in the Northwest suburbs. But Divincenzo's lawyers say he knew nothing about it.

Generally, the "initiations" involved tackling a player, giving him a wedgie and sodomizing him with fingers or sticks.

One player said he was only poked in the "butt cheek," though, and another testified his teammates simply punched him repeatedly.

Many characterized it as simple horseplay, but one boy said he limped afterward and another said he later felt pain while bending over.

Assistant State's Attorney Margaret Ogarek said last month that Divincenzo was responsible for the boys' behavior because he created an environment that allowed the alleged hazing to go on for years.

She also said it's "quite frankly, unbelievable" that Divincenzo didn't know what was happening in his soccer program. One boy said Divincenzo said, "Welcome to the team," after a less violent incident.

Others said he ordered the varsity team to apologize and do 100 pushups after a more serious Sept. 26, 2012, incident that prompted a criminal investigation into the hazing. Maine West administrators said they learned what happened two days later, from the family of a freshman player.

No one at the school told DCFS until Oct. 2, 2012, lawyers said.

Finally, Ogarek underscored the testimony of former freshman players who said Divincenzo earlier told them he'd have the varsity team "take their thumbs and stick it up our butt" if they performed poorly in a drill.

She said it was "so damning" to Divincenzo in light of the later Sept. 26 incident.

"Exactly what he told those kids he would do happened two weeks later," Ogarek said.

But Thomas Breen, another member of Divincenzo's legal team, mocked the charges against his client during arguments in December. He called several "absurd" and one "an out-and-out lie."

He asked the judge facetiously if Divincenzo should call child welfare officials every time someone gets gum in their hair.

"‘Oh, we'd better look into this,' the DCFS person would say," Breen said as he imitated a call to DCFS over a wedgie.

He said Divincenzo was "kept in the dark regarding any of the details" of the hazing.

"This is just varsity players picking on younger kids," Breen said. "That's what it is. It should be no harm, no foul."

District 207 released a statement on Wednesday stating, "Because Main District Township High School District 207 remains a defendant in a related and pending civil lawsuit, [the district] declines to comment."

FOX 32 News contributed to this report.

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