DCFS finds evidence of neglect, abuse in Maine West hazing case
Neglect and abuse claims leveled against two soccer coaches swept up in a hazing scandal at Maine West High School have been substantiated by Illinois’ child welfare agency.
The finding by the Department of Children and Family Services lends new credibility to the allegations and closes yet another formal inquiry into the conduct of the coaches, leaving only Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office with an ongoing criminal investigation into the matter.
The northwest suburban school district didn’t wait for either investigation to end before voting to fire the men, varsity soccer coach Michael Divincenzo and freshman coach Emilio Rodriguez.
Alvarez spokeswoman Sally Daly said the DCFS finding that allegations were “indicated” — or substantiated — adds no pressure to prosecutors conducting Alvarez’s “top-to-bottom” review of the case. Legal experts also point out DCFS investigators face a lower burden of proof than prosecutors.
“I wouldn’t characterize it as putting pressure on this office,” Daly said. “I would characterize it as part of the information that’s been made available to us and information that will be evaluated in the full context of the investigation.”
Still, Richard Kling, a clinical professor of law at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, suspects the finding will have a significant impact on whether prosecutors file charges.
“When DCFS comes back with an ‘indicate’ charge, I think it is certainly something the state’s attorney considers — or should consider — very seriously,” Kling said.
Both coaches have said they didn’t know about the hazing, according to Des Plaines police reports, and they’re seeking hearings to keep their jobs. Rodriguez declined to comment Friday, as did an attorney for Divincenzo, who could not be reached.
The scandal erupted after multiple soccer players told Des Plaines police they were hazed in September by teammates who tackled them and sodomized them with fingers and sticks. Police were also told Divincenzo witnessed an assault in July, congratulated the victim and welcomed him to the team.
Six teens were charged with misdemeanor battery and hazing. Des Plaines police said they sought felonies and were shot down by prosecutors who said there wasn’t enough evidence. That was before Alvarez’s review.
DCFS spokesman Dave Clarkin said the agency found multiple claims of abuse and neglect at Maine West were substantiated.
“Our investigation of two certified school staff concluded on January 30 with a finding that three allegations of abuse and seven allegations of neglect were indicated against one perpetrator,” Clarkin said. “Four allegations of neglect were indicated against the second perpetrator.”
While Clarkin wouldn’t disclose the names of the perpetrators, nor could he detail the allegations, a source said the alleged “perpetrators” were Divincenzo and Rodriguez, respectively.
“When DCFS makes an indicated finding they’re basically saying there’s credible evidence that person has committed an act of abuse or neglect,” said Steve McCollum, a Waukegan-based attorney who represents people who have been indicated by the state.
One abuse allegation against Divincenzo was unfounded, and three abuse and two neglect claims against Rodriguez were unfounded.
Dave Beery, a spokesman for Maine Township High School District 207, declined to comment, other than to say the district has cooperated with all investigations. Tony Romanucci, the lawyer suing the school district over the hazing claims, called it “further vindication” for the plaintiffs in his lawsuit.
Clarkin said the allegations of abuse against the first alleged perpetrator mean his name will be on the State Central Register — a list of registered perpetrators of child abuse and neglect — for 50 years. According to DCFS rules, only a child’s death or the infliction, or allowance of infliction, of sexual penetration allows for the maximum amount of time on that list.
The allegations of neglect against the other coach means his name will be on the list for five years. Potential employers can access that information.
“For a teacher, that’s basically ending their career,” said Diane Redleaf, the executive director of the Family Defense Center, which represents people who have been indicated by DCFS.