SAYREVILLE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The Board of Education has continued the suspensions of the Sayreville War Memorial High School football coach and his staff, CBS 2’s Lou Young reported Tuesday night.
Sources told CBS 2 that the varsity team’s hall of fame coach and his staff were suspended after seven Sayreville players were charged with allegedly sexually assaulting four younger teammates during hazing rituals in the school locker room.
“We got destroyed by a football incident that isn’t proven yet, but people got divided. But people that used to talk and be friends don’t talk anymore. That’s what happened to this town,” Sayreville resident Sam Porcaro said.
Those in attendance at the meeting largely voiced their support for Coach George Najjar, Young reported.
“I know he was not there and you can’t hold him responsible for something he didn’t know and didn’t see,” Tony Vallillo said.
Among the supporters is a feeling of dread; a suspicious that this is bigger than a canceled season—a stain on the reputation of the good as well as the bad, CBS 2 reported.
“Coach Najjar was and is one of the greatest influences of my life; he teaches the two words: commitment and character,” varsity football player Vincent Fultz said.
As WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported, it got tense when a volunteer coach, Robert Berardi, claimed he overheard Superintendent Richard Labbe celebrating.
“The fact that you bury this football program. You said, ‘We got them, they’re all finsihed,’” Berardi said.
Labbe ignored reporters’ questions after the meeting Silverman reported.
The accused players have also been suspended from school, something the Board of Education was also expected to address.
Pamela Brause represents one of the accused players.
“I believe kids need to be in school,” Brause told CBS 2’s Christine Sloan. “Juvenile justice is supposed to be a rehabilitative process. You can’t have people sitting at home doing nothing and expect they can become productive citizens.”
Brause could not talk about the case because all of the accused are juveniles. Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey could not discuss the case either, but in an exclusive interview with CBS 2 he explained how he decides if a case should be moved up to adult court.
“For any case that I could waive a case up to adult court for a juvenile … I take it very seriously. I have people in the chain of command review the case from top to bottom. I get the file; I review it. I want to know what negotiations there were with defense counsel,” Carey said.
The prosecutor said he also looks at the history of the juvenile to see if there is a prior arrest.
“We also take very seriously the wishes of a victim in a case like this,” Carey said.
Carey has 30 days from the time the charges were filed to make the decision whether to move the case from juvenile to adult court.
“If you put somebody in jail for a significant amount of time, they’re not going to come out a better person,” Carey said. “There is a chance we can help Sayreville to heal and to move on from this.”
“This evening, we took another wrenching step in demonstrating to this great community that the safety and welfare of our students is by far our highest priority,” Labbe said Tuesday.
Sayreville has been a town divided since the football season was canceled in the wake of the hazing allegations and the student suspects were charged.
On social media, some are blaming the young alleged victims for speaking up.
“Whenever there is a juvenile case and the media is involved, it adds to the peer pressure put on the kids,” Carey said.
Sources told CBS 2 that the district’s head coach and his staff spent very little time in the locker room, but some lawmakers believe they should be held responsible for what allegedly took place.
“There has to be changes,” Assemblyman John Wisniewski said. “It’s unacceptable that there is a defense that they didn’t know. They should have known. Their job was to supervise and be responsible for these young men.”
He said the only way for the school’s football program to “have any credibility going forward,” is to have new leadership “top to bottom.”
“They let the community down by allowing this to happen,” he said.
But so far, several hundred signatures have been attached to an online petition in support of Coach Najjar, WCBS 880’s Sean Adams reported.
Some wrote he is a good man, a role model, a mentor and a man of character. Former players planned to defend him at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting.
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