ONLY ON ABC7NEWS.COM: Napa football player accused of hazing fights to clear his name

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Monday, March 6, 2017
EXCLUSIVE: Napa football player accused of hazing fights to clear his name
The ABC7 News I-Team has an exclusive look inside the hazing scandal rocking Napa High School as the junior varsity quarterback, Johnny Torres fights to clear his name.

NAPA, Calif. (KGO) -- For the first time, one of the high school football players under investigation for hazing is speaking publicly about what happened in the Napa Valley High School locker room on Halloween evening 2016.

RELATED: Napa parents frustrated by high school football hazing investigation

Johnny Torres, 16, is one of nearly a dozen football players suspended by Napa Valley Unified School District officials.

Torres, facing an expulsion hearing Tuesday, spoke exclusively with ABC7 News I-Team, saying he did nothing wrong.

He said he's been falsely accused and he wants a chance to clear his name.

So how does a straight-A honor student without any disciplinary blemish on his record get caught up in a hazing scandal?

Torres says that Halloween night the team had just finished a routine practice in preparation for the big game against rival Vintage High School.

The sophomore quarterback was already waiting outside in the parking lot to catch a ride home.

"Another friend comes in, he's like, 'Hey, we're messing with the freshmen,' not knowing what that really meant, I'm like, 'okay,'" Torres said.

What followed according to Torres was just some roughhousing with a couple of his friends.

But the ABC7 News I-Team has obtained documents from the school district's investigation that say, in recent years, sophomore players participated in hazing rituals targeting freshmen. The younger players were held down and groped. All of the victims were clothed at the time.

One player signed a statement saying, "It is a regular occurrence that players poke each other in the butt and playfully fight."

Several players gave statements saying it went farther than usual that day when sophomore players held down freshmen who were groped.

Torres told the I-Team there were no coaches present in the locker room at the time but a janitor saw what happened. "I see him looking down on the group and I was like, 'Oh, okay, this doesn't look too good.' I get my stuff and go," he said.

Witness statements obtained by the I-Team indicate there are conflicting reports about whether Torres joined in on any of the hazing.

At least one statement says Torres was not involved and another statement seems to suggest Torres was simply roughhousing with a friend.

RELATED: Police investigate alleged assaults involving Napa football team

When asked if he ever held anyone down while other people grabbed the freshman Torres responded, "No, definitely not."

Mandy Leigh, the Torres' family attorney, says the school district's investigation was sloppy. She says there are conflicting statements from witnesses who were interviewed up to six different times. "They have trumped up charges for the sole purpose of finding students that they can blame for their own inactions and omissions," Leigh told the I-Team.

She says the district focused on incriminating statements while ignoring statements that cleared Torres.

"They should have been willing to listen to the evidence and maybe admit that they messed up," Leigh said. "They need to apologize to this family. This expulsion needs to go away."

Napa Unified School District Superintendent Patrick Sweeney declined to be interviewed about their investigation but issued a written statement saying it's "a very sensitive topic," but said he would consider answering questions on a future occasion.

Torres' parents say their son has been suspended from school for two months and his education is suffering despite having hired a tutor for him. They say their son could be prevented from getting a college education and a football scholarship based on false allegations. They're anxious for an opportunity to present evidence at their son's expulsion hearing Tuesday.

"When they put expulsion on the table, I literally lost it," Torres' father John said.

Johnny's mother, Flora Torres said, "He's always been a 4.0 and straight-A student and they've taken that away from him. They've taken away his opportunity to continue and thrive in a way where he grows and learns at school. He enjoys school."

The Torres' say their son's exemplary record and all the hard work he's put into his studies should also be taken into consideration. They point out he has never been in trouble before or even been in a fight. They say Torres' record helps prove he is telling the truth when he says he did nothing wrong.

The family says they are determined to keep working to clear their son's name.

Last week, ABC7 News was there when Napa Valley High players and parents crowded the room waiting to be heard during a public comments portion of a Napa School Board meeting. Some expressed concerns over how long the case has dragged on and several speakers said the accused players should have been allowed to remain in school while the investigation was wrapping up. One player went to the microphone to let it be known some players have been wrongfully accused.

"I know some of my teammates didn't do what they're accused of doing. You have are ruining their lives," Torres' teammate John Marshall said.

But the district's investigation is not the only concern for players and their parents caught up in this hazing scandal.

The I-Team has learned the parallel investigation conducted by the Napa Police Department has been completed.

Napa Police Captain Jennifer Gonzales told the I-Team they've turned over the results of their investigation to the Napa County District Attorney.

She said it could result in criminal charges including assault, battery, hazing or even sexual assault.

Napa police tell the I-Team the criminal investigation took four months because of its sensitive nature. "You know how kids are, it's about reputation," said Napa Police Captain Jennifer Gonzalez. "And we need to make sure we stay quiet on things and not release information because they have a whole life ahead of them."

RELATED: Police say Napa football assaults may be ritual hazing

On the criminal side, prosecutors tell the I-Team they'll decide whether to file charges soon -- perhaps as early as next week. Police say the case could include assault, battery, hazing or even sexual assault.