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Three VMI Seniors Indicted on Hazing, Harassment Charges

By Patricia Davis
The Washington Post
Lexington, Va.

Three Virginia Military Institute seniors were indicted Monday on hazing charges by a Rockbridge County, Va., grand jury after a former first-year cadet testified that they routinely assaulted him with a belt.

The misdemeanor indictments came less than two months after Gordon Saunders, the commonwealth's attorney in Rockbridge, decided there was not enough evidence to file assault charges in the case, in part because the former cadet, George Wade Jr., could be seen as a willing participant in the initiation rituals at the school.

Wade, 20, of Henrico County, Va., had alleged that he and five other VMI freshmen were beaten with a belt - and once with a coat hanger - by the seniors about three times a week from Sept. 11 to mid-October.

At Wade's request, Saunders then asked a Circuit Court judge to appoint a special prosecutor, who took the case before the grand jury.

The jury's decision to indict is "great. It's all we wanted in the beginning," Wade's father, George Wade Sr., said Monday. "At least now, what happened to George will be able to come out. And at least now, people will have to be accountable for what they did."

Wade, who said the beatings left him and other freshmen with welts and bruises, dropped out of VMI in November. VMI suspended three students after an internal investigation of Wade's allegations. Two of those students - identified as seniors Charles Clemons and Jonathan Gonzales - were among those indicted Monday. The third indicted student was identified by prosecutors as Thomas Upshaw. None of the indicted seniors could be reached by telephone Monday night.

In announcing the indictments, special prosecutor Michael S. Irvine said he expects the case to result in challenges to Virginia's 48-year-old hazing law, including whether the case can proceed even though VMI's investigation did not conclude that hazing actually occurred. Nevertheless, he said, the issue should be resolved in court.

VMI officials issued a statement indicating the school believes that its suspension of three students was a sufficient conclusion to the case.

"This was a serious offense which warranted the suspension of three cadets, but after a thorough assessment of the incident, VMI found no evidence of bodily injury and did not file hazing charges," Col. Mike Strickler, VMI's spokesman, said in the statement.