Ex-judge questions student suspensions amid Wall, NJ hazing probe
WALL — Former state Superior Court Judge Deborah Gramiccioni, now a private practice attorney representing several Wall Township High School students, has warned school administrators amid a number of school suspensions issued as an investigation continues into allegations of locker room hazing.
The Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office is leading the probe of allegations of a hazing incident from which at least one video clip has been acknowledged, as well as accusations of separate, off-campus sexual assaults involving juveniles.
Because all of the allegations involve minors, specific details cannot be released under state law, according to Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Lori Linskey.
The locker room incident was first reported by NJ.com, citing parents involved in the investigation, who said that six upperclassmen athletes had been seen in a video, pinning down a younger athlete and threatening to sexually assault him with the handle of a mop or broom.
One of the students implicated in that incident has also been accused of sexually assaulting at least one girl in an unrelated incident, as previously reported.
Gramiccioni told New Jersey 101.5 she is representing "less than a dozen" members of the football team who have been suspended since news of the allegations first broke.
She declined to speak on specific reasons why she was retained, while she cautioned the Wall Schools Superintendent Tracy Handerhan to be "mindful" of the well-being and reputations of players not directly involved with what happened.
"There appears to have been a rush to judgement, in respect to the letter we penned to Superintendent Tracy Handerhan. We learned of suspensions of children at times in excess of ten days," Gramiccioni told New Jersey 101.5.
"Sometimes the suspensions are being abruptly extended the day before these children were supposed to return to school with little or no assurances to the families that these suspensions are tethered to actual bad behavior by the student."
She said the school administration and the public is using a very broad brush to accuse the entire football team of doing something wrong.
"Not only does that trample on the cornerstone of our justice system by essentially requiring innocent children to come forward and defend themselves against something that is nothing short of a public onslaught," Gramiccioni said.
"It doesn't give these children the due process that not only do they deserve but that New Jersey code mandates when you're talking about suspensions."
Her husband, Christopher Gramiccioni, resigned as Monmouth County Prosecutor back in June as the married couple launched their law firm, Kingston Coventry.
The Gramiccionis live in Wall Township and have sent their three children to public schools in the district, she confirmed.
Team 'culture' questioned
At a passionate Wall Township Board of Education meeting earlier this month, graduates of Wall High School were among those who shared previous incidents of bullying that they say happened during their time at the school.
One young man shared that he was talking publicly for the first time about his own locker room assaults in 1994, by then-members of the football team.
A female resident also said her special needs son was bullied into a sexual act in 2012 by members of the football team — she asked how it was possible that he was taken advantage of.
Quick to suspend?
Gramiccioni does not think the school is in a panic over the allegations, but she believes the suspensions may be a reaction to attention by the media.
"Our administrators must likewise proceed with a scalpel, not a sledgehammer, and the decision-making process must be transparent. Otherwise we are forced to conclude that these administrators care more about job security than our students’ future," Gramiccioni said.
She cited NJ Administrative Code 6A:16:7B as describing the process to be followed for short- and long-term suspensions. It provides for the opportunity for students to present their version of events, written notification to parents of the specific charges and the facts on which they are based.
"There seems to be little if any transparency to parents when these kids are getting suspended," Gramiccioni said.
She said there is a lot of sympathy for members of the team who might be lumped together as one entity but fear being attacked verbally for expressing their concern.
The Crimson Knights forfeited their final two games of the season including a playoff game and their traditional football game with Manasquan.
Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office Spokesman Chris Swendeman said there was no new comment about the investigation as of Tuesday.
Handerhan on Tuesday did not immediately respond to New Jersey 101.5's request for comment.