Lawsuit: Sayreville hazing suspects were targeted because they’re black
SAYREVILLE — One of the seven former high school football players implicated in the 2014 sexual assault hazing scandal is suing the school district and prosecutors, claiming the suspects were singled out because they were black.
Dylan Thillet filed a 13-count complaint in Superior Court in New Brunswick this month alleging violations of civil rights and fundamental fairness, malicious prosecution and prosecutorial misconduct, and libel and slander.
It names investigators, the superintendent, the school district’s attorney, Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey, and Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Kuberiet as defendants.
The hazing scandal rocked this football-proud community and garnered national headlines after Superintendent Richard Labbe made the unprecedented decision to cancel the entire football season after the accusations came to light.
The players were accused of grabbing a player’s penis and anally penetrating their victims with fingers during a series of incidents in the locker room.
Thillet’s lawsuit called the charges “inflammatory and stigmatizing.”
Four of the players pleaded guilty to charges of committing a disorderly persons offense of hazing and third-degree endangering the welfare of their teammates. They were sentenced to two years probation.
Thillet was among the players who chose to go to trial in closed Family Court proceedings.
He and another player were found not guilty of the most serious charges but were found guilty of lesser charges as juveniles and sentenced to probation, community service and house arrest. The lesser charges spared the players from having to register as sex offenders, officials said at the time.
Some in the community, however, believed the players got off with slaps on the wrist.
The lawsuit says Thillet was barred from attending the prom and walking in the graduation ceremony.
The parties involved in the lawsuit either did not return calls for comment or declined to comment for this story.
The lawsuit again raises suspicion that the charges against the players may have been racially motivated. The alleged victims were all white.
One former black player who was not involved in the scandal told NBC News in 2014 that he believed that “that none of this would have happened if white kids were involved.”
“They stick together, the white kids, and the white teachers. We’re outnumbered,” Isaiah Roberts was quoted as saying.
“The media attention that the plaintiff’s case garnered exposed him to public scorn, humiliation, ridicule, damage to his reputation and extreme and lasting stigmatization,” the lawsuit says.
Although authorities did not release the players’ names — and a court order barred local media outlets from revealing their names — Thillet’s name was made public last year after his attorney put the district on notice that he intended to file a lawsuit.
Thillet’s attorney, Richard Klein, earned the ire of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office by putting out a news release suggesting that his client had been cleared after the trial. Carey’s office, in response, issued its own release blasting Klein and revealing more details about the accusations than previously known.
The lawsuit claims those “press releases contained false, reckless, malicious and misleading information.”
The lawsuit blames the district’s attorney, Jonathan Busch, for leaking confidential information about his client. It also faults Labbe for going on the speaking circuit and spreading misleading information about the case.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-438-1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.