DA Asked to Determine Charges of MHS Football Players

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By: 
Kevin Murphy
In a recent criminal investigation concerning bullying at Middleton High School evidence shows that Head Football Coach Jason Pertzborn was told about the incidents last summer by another player, but the concerns went unaddressed.

MIDDLETON–Middleton police have asked the Dane County District Attorney to review possible charges of misdemeanor disorderly conduct involving four members of the Middleton High School (MHS) football team, according to a report released Monday.

Middleton Police Department (MIPD) determined that due to a lack of evidence and conflicting statements, referral of criminal charges against the suspects was not prudent. Instead, the department asked the district attorney’s office to review the case for a possible charging decision.

The investigation by Kim Wood, MHS’ school resource officer, and other department members, began on Jan. 11 into a possible sexual assault in the shower areas of MHS used by the varsity football team. The report was obtained by the Times-Tribune through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The report details alleged incidents of unlawful sexual contact and online bullying perpetrated by some members of the varsity football team who chiefly targeted another team member.

The Times-Tribune does not identify victims of alleged sexual assault or juveniles involved in criminal conduct.

Instead, the students interviewed for suspected harassment and bullying will be identified as Suspect #1, etc. and the witness will be similarly identified.The alleged victim will be indentified as AV.

AV was interviewed by the MIPD and a forensic interviewer at Safe Harbor, a child advocacy center in Madison. Another student, referred to a Witness #3 also was interviewed by the same two entities. Their statements are mostly consistent in each interview.

According to Wood’s 22-page report:

About 70 members of the football team would workout at MHS on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 6:45 and 8 a.m., shower and dress for classes.

While showering, AV said two members of the football team approached him and began rubbing their genitals. The two boys didn’t touch him or speak to him, but AV said he believed he was targeted because the boys may find him “stupid” and “vulnerable.”

AV did tell Wood that the two boys would be “okay one day and then mean the next day.”

AV also said that two teammates tried to pull down his underwear in an attempt to expose his genitals but didn’t succeed.

AV said that he told football coach Jason Pertzborn, last year about some of the bullying before it became sexual.

Pertzborn, who was also a MHS business teacher, resigned earlier this year after working out a separation agreement with Middleton Cross Plains Area School District (MCPASD).

Other incidents involved boys taking and sending pictures of genitals and naked butts. The photos were distributed to a Snapchat group open only to varsity football players. Some distributed photos of boys using the toilet were taken over the top of toilet stall walls. AV didn’t know if they were taken with the subjects’ consent.

Another incident AV reported occurred on the sidelines during a game. He said he was hit by a teammate on the helmet so severely that it caused him headaches and nausea. He said his parent saw it happen, but the coaches were too involved in the game and didn’t observe it.

Online bullying also occurred in the varsity players group chat where AV was called “stupid” for sending a photo of a friend.

Wood interviewed Suspect #1 who said the morning workouts were led by Defensive Coordinator/Strength and Conditioning Coach Brad Rogeberg.  

When showering in the old locker room near the swimming pool, Suspect #1 said there are lots of naked boys running around but he didn’t see any boys cornering others, or touching their genitals. He also denied touching his genitals in an effort to make others feel uncomfortable.

“(G)uys will run around naked and smack each other’s asses,” but it’s done in a joking manner,” and has never heard any complaints about it, Suspect #1 said.

Suspect #1 admitted to urinating on a friend’s leg in the shower who responded by laughing and pushing him. He said he also was urinated on by two boys and just “laughed it off.”  

He also said he had his underwear torn off but was only momentarily annoyed by it.

Suspect #1 denied AV’s statements that he wanted to make AV “his b****” that he “wanted to f*** him,” or that he made oral sex gestures to him. When those things are said to him, he just laughs them off.  He declined to identify who said similar things to him.

He also denied seeing anyone hit on the helmet so hard that it would cause headaches or nausea.

Suspect #1 confirmed that photos, videos and other inappropriate things, including nude photos of himself sent on a Snapchat group used by football players. He didn’t know if everyone gave their consent to their photos being posted to the group chat. He also said that he never sent any bullying messages and others were told to “knock it off” if they didn’t like the messages.

A student referred to as Witness #1 confirmed that teammates surrounded him in the shower, put soap in his hair and peed on him. It occurred “Not too often,” but it did happen, he said.

Witness #1 also said he stayed in a corner of the shower room to avoid conflict and hadn’t seen others urinated on or any sexual touching.

He did see photos of genitals posted to the snap group but didn’t know the names of the posters. 

He confirmed that coaches talked about bullying or harassment “aside from the routine,” at a “Super Camp.”

Suspect #2 denied touching AV inappropriately. He said he did shove him in the hallway, but AV didn’t fall and wasn’t hurt.  Suspect #2 said that AV doesn’t shower after lifting weights and “stinks.”

“Obviously, if he had (redacted) I wouldn’t be messing with him like everyone else on the team,” Suspect #2 said.

Suspect #2 said he had seen others spank AV in the shower, touch his nipples and pee on him. Suspect #2 wouldn’t name those he had seen do those things.

Suspect #2 also said AV was targeted for this conduct because he was “different.”

After learning that the police were investigating incidents involving AV, Suspect #2 said he advised the Snap group that they should not be “messing with him as much as they do.”  He also said some of the “stuff” had gone too far.

He declined to offer any Snapchat user information.

In an interview with Wood and Assistant Athletic Director Bradley Crandell, Witness #2 said he’s seen genital photos sent in the varsity Snapchat group and told those who sent them to stop more than once.

Asked what the coaching staff told the team about social media bullying, Witness #2 said they were told not to post negative messages about teammates, including AV on the Snapchat groups. 

Coach Pertzborn addressed those posts with a 16-person team leadership group but there were no other talks with the team on the issue, Witness #2 said.

Witness #3 went to school officials in January after he felt the coaches were ineffective at curbing the players harassment and bullying of AV.

Witness #3 became most concerned for AV after receiving a video from him holding a knife and a rifle, conduct Witness #3 likened to someone who could “shoot up a school.”

Witness #3 told Wood that the suspects would soap their hands and touch AV’s genitals in the shower and touch their own just to make AV uncomfortable. AV would ask them to stop but they continued to do it because they thought it was funny.

“I watched that,” Witness #3 said.

He called Suspect #1 “number one” among those who touched AV.

Witness #3 also said Suspect #1 messaged AV to “kill himself,” and made other similar statements.

Last year, Witness #3 said he also saw another teammate forced into a corner of the shower where his underwear was removed and was peed on by bigger football players, some that had already graduated.

Those victimized were smaller than the perpetrators, who didn’t prey on kids who were bigger or “well-bodied.”

“If they are able to do this with no remorse to a (redacted) kid who can’t defend himself, when are they going to stop? Who are they going to make a victim next? It’s not okay,” said Witness #3.

Witness #3 messaged Pertzborn and Rogeberg through Team app, an app used by the team to communicate, about the harassment in July 2022, saying it has caused him to stop playing football.

Pertzborn messaged back asking who was harassing whom, that he wanted it stopped and that Witness #3 should let the offenders know that Pertzborn has his back.

“I am going to fully investigate, and I am going to make sure we are clear that there is no place for it,” Pertzborn messaged Witness #3 in July.

During the exchange, both Pertzborn and Rogeberg pressured Witness #3 to get signed up for the team, while promising to address his concerns.

Pertzborn: “I need to know who is being bullied and by who? I want to make sure it stops and the person being bullied is heard and feels safe. We dealt with an issue last year as well. When you speak up you need to let the offenders know I have your back on this. I have dealt with false report as well in the past. I am going to fully investigate and I am going to make sure we are clear that there is no place for it.”

Witness #3: “the person being bullied is (AV).”

Pertzborn: “OK. I will speak with him. Thank you.”

Witness #3: “okay.”

Rogeberg: “Let's address the issue so that you can come out and play. Football is a great way for you to stay busy work hard and gain confidence. We have so many great guys who you can grow with. We will deal with the situation with (AV). (AV) has worked his butt off and we will talk to him.”

Witness #3: “thank you.”

Pertzborn: “I spoke with (AV) today. He said a couple guys and he gave me their names said some weird stuff. I'm following up with them there is no place for it. I let AV know if it continues he needs to let me know and I'll take further measures.”

Pertzborn: “I noticed as of today you're still not signed up.”

Witness #3: “thank you for handling this,​ i am signing up today,​ i asked my dad and he will be signing me up as soon as he has time.” This is proceeded by a thumb’s up emoji.

However, Witness #3 said the bullying continued until January despite AV giving the coaches the names of his tormentors.

Meanwhile, a rugby coach told Witness #3’s father that he was proud of his son coming forward about the harassment situation. Witness #3’s mother thought that the situation was being taken care of but that also meant that her son’s communications had “gone through the grapevine.”

Witness #3 said he had not gone to the workouts this year because he did not feel safe.

Witness #3 said the school may be slow to respond to the harassment situation in order to avoid any “bad press” about the football team while the stadium renovation is underway.

When Wood tried to contact Pertzborn last month, she was referred to his attorney, Stephen Hurley, who said that Pertzborn would not be talking to the police.

As recently as Jan. 17, Witness #3 said he–a football player–was being intimated by other football players.

The parents of Suspects #3 and #4, who were allegedly involved in some of the incidents, did not give consent for MIPD to question their sons and no questioning of the boys took place during the criminal investigation.

On Tuesday, the Times-Tribune asked the school district what it is specifically doing to protect students from harassment in the locker rooms. A district spokesperson referred to a letter sent to the community on Feb. 7 which anticipated the release of the police investigation.

“It is important to remember the criminal investigation by our police department only represents one aspect of a larger approach that includes consideration of school-based and athletic code violations and associated disciplinary action related to each proven violation,” according to an excerpt of the two-page letter.”

A second request for information about protecting students went unanswered on the same day.

On Wednesday the district gave the Times-Tribune the following statement:

"At Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District, we have a strong commitment to creating an inclusive learning environment where all students feel safe, welcomed and are treated with respect. As such, we will not tolerate any form of harassment or other harmful behavior. When we receive allegations of misconduct we investigate them immediately and take appropriate action. Our district has always been committed to thorough, impartial and unbiased investigations.  While the Middleton Police investigation has closed, our District investigation is still ongoing and will be for the next several weeks.
 
"We have reiterated the expectation of all educators and coaches who have responsibility to supervise students in our learning and practice spaces and locker room areas, that they must supervise their students, at all times, while under their care.  This is true of activities that occur before, during, and after school and on weekends. These expectations are clearly delineated in our coaches handbook and in school protocols.  
 
In addition, our athletic department has intensified their monitoring of learning and activities/athletics spaces to ensure our students are supervised 100% of the time. 
 
"Our staff works hard to build relationships with our students, so they feel comfortable coming forward with concerns related to bullying and harassment. Lastly, we have an anonymous reporting tool, Speak Up, Speak Out, available to all students, families and staff, offering another way to report bullying, harassment, or other concerns. 
 
"As our district learns additional information through our investigation, there may be further actions we will consider or implement.  Making improvements is a continuous process, and our District will always ensure the safety of our students is the top priority."
 

 

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