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Anti-Muslim hazing leads to felony charges for Wheaton football players

A student alleges that the players put him in the back seat of a car and — with Middle Eastern music playing — made offensive comments about Muslims and told him that he was being kidnapped by Muslims.

The Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., on May 29, 2013. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Christoffer Lukas Müller

WHEATON, Ill. (AP) — Five members of a Christian college football team in suburban Chicago face felony charges in the hazing of another team member who alleges they duct-taped his hands and feet and attempted to sodomize him with an object before dumping him half-naked in an off-campus park.

The DuPage County State’s Attorney’s office announced Monday (Sept. 18) that the five Wheaton College players are charged with aggravated battery, mob action and unlawful restraint.

A judge signed arrest warrants and set $50,000 bonds for the players, who are expected to turn themselves in. As of Tuesday morning, none of them had done so, according to Paul Darrah, a spokesman for the state’s attorney’s office. Darrah said the most serious charge — aggravated battery — carries a maximum sentence of two to five years in prison.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the victim, a freshman, told police he was in his dormitory room watching basketball on television in March 2016 when his teammates tackled him, put a pillowcase over his head and punched him when he yelled at them to stop.

The student alleges the five put him in the back seat of a car and — with Middle Eastern music playing — made offensive comments about Muslims and told him that he was being kidnapped by Muslims who wanted to have sex with goats and that he would be their “goat” for the night.

After the attack, the victim drove himself to a hospital, where he was treated for bruises and muscle tears in his shoulders. Records indicate that an emergency room nurse called police.

Wheaton College says other players and coaching staff alerted college officials to an “incident.” In a statement, the school said it was notified about the attack that same month and, working with an independent investigator, launched an investigation.

“The conduct we discovered as a result of our investigation into this incident was entirely unacceptable and inconsistent with the values we share as human beings. … We are profoundly saddened that any member of our community could be mistreated in any way.”

The students being sought on arrest warrants are 22-year-old James Cooksey, of Jacksonville, Fla.; 21-year-old Kyler Kregal of Grand Rapids, Mich.; 21-year-old Benjamin Pettway, of Lookout Mountain, Ga.; 21-year-old Noah Spielman, of Columbus, Ohio; and 22-year-old Samuel TeBos, of Allendale, Mich.

All are listed on the team roster, and three of them played in the game that the fourth-ranked Division III team played on Saturday, according to the Tribune. Spielman is the son of Chris Spielman, an All-American linebacker at Ohio State and All-Pro linebacker in the NFL who spent the bulk of his career with the Detroit Lions.

The school declined to answer any questions about the students’ continued participation on the football team. It said in the statement that, due to federal student privacy protections, it was unable to say what disciplinary measures were taken.

The school said its Board of Trustees has engaged outside experts to lead a review of the anti-hazing policy that the school revised in 2014.