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County Attorney for Yavapai County (AZ) explains her thinking

This letter to the public is from the official website and is published without

editing: HN  Link is here: click

Dear Concerned Citizen:

The public has received a lot of misinformation about the Bennett and Wheeler case from the media.  This Office, however, does not and will not hide the truth.  Copies of the police reports (redacted to protect the victims) are available to the public for review on our website at: http://www.co.yavapai.az.us/departments/Aty/AtyHome.asp.  I suggest that anyone that wants to decide between trusting this Office and trusting the distorted summary put forth by some members of the media should read these reports themselves.

If you review the police reports, you will find a terrible situation that can be summed up as follows:  Eighteen junior high age kids went to a week-long camp in Prescott.  The two defendants were their junior counselors and in charge of them.  As a form of discipline, the defendants, then 17 and 19, performed a ritual on the campers referred to as “brooming.”  Simply and somewhat graphically put, the defendants would use a broom stick or flashlight and push it into the crevice of campers’ buttocks over their clothes.  Sometimes the victims were held and sometimes they were not.  There is absolutely no evidence that this was done with a sexual motivation.  No penetration occurred, either in the anus or rectum.  The victims were not secreted away to a hiding spot while this was done to them.  It was done in front of the other campers.  In fact, several photographs were taken by other campers.  This is hardly the work of sexual predators.  Rather, it is the work of two young men repeatedly making poor decisions.  We all have heard reports of this sort of thing throughout the United States over many years:  hazing gone wrong.

Was their conduct a good thing?  No.  Was it appropriate?  No.  Are they being held criminally responsible for their misdeeds?  Yes.  But to call this “sodomy” or “child molestation” when it clearly is not, harms these victims, unnecessarily taints these defendants and harms the criminal justice system in general.  Quite frankly, it is slap in the face to child molestation and sexual assault victims everywhere to put this conduct in the same category.

It is important that the public be aware of the real facts of this case in order to make a more informed opinion of the actions of this Office.  It is also important that such facts come to light to reduce the damage caused by these inaccurate media reports.  It is important to the victims, the defendants and the criminal justice system.  Once fully and accurately informed, one may continue to disagree with the result.  This is, after all, America.  However, I am confident that a fully informed person will better understand the actions of this Office, agree or disagree as they might.

I take seriously the trust the public has placed in me as County Attorney.  I carry out my duties according to the law and the ethical obligations placed upon me, and attempt to wisely use the discretion placed in this position by the law.  I will not and do not bend to outside pressure, whether it be political, media or otherwise.  Furthermore, the system has safeguards; in this case, it is the trial judge who represents an independent branch of the government.  Based solely upon the facts of this case, he has already determined that the resolution of this matter was appropriate and serves the ends of justice.

Sheila S. Polk

Yavapai County Attorney

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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