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Judge acquits coach of neglect

St. Amant locker-room hazing focus of trial

Author(s): STEVEN WARD Date: July 20, 2004 Section: News

GONZALES – The St. Amant High School head football coach was acquitted Monday of a misdemeanor charge of failure to report abuse and neglect in the October 2002 locker-room hazing of one his football players.

Just before 5 p.m. Monday, ad hoc Judge A.J. Kling issued his verdict after the daylong bench trial of David Swacker in Ascension Parish Court.

Swacker, 49, 40441 Myrtle St., Prairieville, was charged by the 23rd Judicial District Attorney’s Office with not contacting the Ascension Parish Sheriffs Office after learning of the incident. Jake Savoy, a sophomore at the school and member of the football team, was assaulted by his teammates on Oct 14, 2002, his 16th birthday.

Following the trial, Swacker said the incident and the news media attention during the past two years caused heartache for his family and for the Savoy family.

“This has been a tough situation for everybody involved. The Savoys live in the same community that my family does. It’s a close-knit community and hopefully everybody has learned something from what happened. We all need to make something positive from what happened. I hope this leads to some healing,” Swacker said.

Following the trial, Savoy, the first witness to testify, declined to comment about the verdict.

His mother, Karen Savoy, said after the trial she still has faith in the justice system.

“1 know that this case proves to non-believers that my son was abused and Coach Swacker knew about it, whether he reported it or didn’t report it, and that my family are still victims of this situation,” she said.

Karen Savoy said the best thing that came out of the matter was that hazing will no longer be tolerated at St. Amant High School.

“It won’t happen again, and if it took my family going through this for a year and a half, then that’s what it took,” Karen Savoy said.

Jake Savoy took the stand shortly before 10 a.m. and told prosecutor Robin O’Bannon his fellow players took a birthday-hitting ritual too far, ending in an assault.

Jake Savoy said the players taped his naked body to a bench with athletic tape, beat his buttocks with their hands and shower slippers, inserted the empty tape roll into his buttocks, and shoved their buttocks in his face.

Savoy told Swacker later that afternoon he was quitting the football team because he “could not trust his teammates anymore.”

Later that night, Swacker called Jake Savoy at home and talked to him for 30 minutes about what happened. After that, Swacker called St. Amant High School Principal Doug Moreau and asked him to investigate the matter.

Swacker was the last witness to testify.

Swacker’s defense attorney, Tommy Damico, asked Swacker several times if he ever thought Savoy had suffered any serious injury.

A person must have knowledge of a serious injury to be found guilty of failure to report abuse and neglect, Damico said.

Swacker testified that he only knew what Jake Savoy had told him on the phone – that a birthday spanking got out-of-hand.

Swacker said he followed school policy and procedure and called his principal that night and reported what he knew.

During the trial, Moreau was grilled by O’Bannon about how he handled the internal investigation. Although the incident occurred on a Monday, Moreau did not forward the results of his investigation to deputies until the Friday after the hazing – Oct 18.

The Ascension Parish Sheriffs Office declined to arrest anyone as a result of the incident. Jerry Savoy, Jake Savoy’s father and an Ascension Parish councilman, testified he told the Sheriffs Office and the District Attorney’s Office not to arrest or prosecute anyone because he thought that would be best for his son.

Nevertheless, the charges against Swacker and three students involved in the hazing were made by the District Attorney’s Office. The students were charged with simple battery. One student has pleaded guilty and two others have yet to have their trials scheduled.

A few times during Moreau’s testimony Monday, Swacker supporters sitting behind the Swacker family laughed.

O’Bannon, the prosecutor, leapt from her seat and walked to the witness box to ask Moreau if he thought it would be funny if a fire had broken out while one of his students was taped to a bench and could not get up.

Moreau somberly said he did not.

Just before Kling read his verdict, he said that although Swacker did not contact the right agency required under the law – in this case, the Sheriffs Office – he did call his principal. The judge also noted that the well-being of Jake Savoy was on the forefront of Swacker’s mind.

Kling concluded that Swacker did not break the law in question “knowingly and willfully.”

Jake Savoy is still a member of the football team. A civil lawsuit by the Savoy family is pending against Swacker and the Ascension Parish School System.

Copyright 2004 Capital City Press, Baton Rouge, La.