Police seek charges against seven students after Woburn locker room incident
Woburn, MA – Police are pursuing criminal charges against seven students at Woburn Memorial High School after a freshman football player, 14-year-old Johnathan Coucelos, was allegedly assaulted by a throng of teammates last fall in a locker room and attacked twice afterward in the school, according to the boy’s parents and attorney.
A hearing is scheduled Tuesday in Lowell Juvenile Court before a clerk magistrate to determine whether probable cause exists to issue criminal complaints against the seven students, said the family’s attorney, Peter Hahn.
Johnathan’s parents, Kevin and Jeanny Coucelos, also notified Woburn’s city solicitor that they plan to sue the city and school department for $750,000 for the trauma Johnathan and the family have suffered over his ordeal.
“No one in the school administration has been held to account despite what has happened to Johnathan — no coach and not Principal [Jessica] Callanan,” the parents stated in their letter.
“I want them to get what they deserve,” Kevin Coucelos added in an interview.
City Solicitor Ellen Callahan Doucette declined to comment, other than to say the letter has been sent to Woburn’s insurance carrier.
The Woburn case, first reported by the Globe in December, is among a wave of troubling alleged misconduct in Massachusetts high school sports in the past year, from Duxbury to Danvers and beyond.
Woburn School Superintendent Matt Crowley said he “takes this matter seriously and is treating it with the utmost sincerity and gravity.”
“We acknowledge and support the student and family that had the strength to come forward to report this deeply troubling matter,” Crowley said in a statement.
Crowley said the school district has retained outside counsel, Patrick Hanley and the Butters Brazilian law firm, to conduct a Title IX investigation, which will be followed by “a thorough administrative review and policy analysis” by a second outside firm led by former Massachusetts secretary of public safety and security Daniel Bennett, former State Police colonel Kerry Gilpin, and attorney John Benzan.
“We pledge to be forthcoming regarding the results of those investigations and pledge to enact their findings and recommendations,” Crowley said.
Johnathan, who stopped attending the Woburn school in December out of fear for his safety, plans to enroll soon at the Cambridge Matignon School, where officials have pledged the community will welcome him, his parents said.
The Globe does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault unless they give their consent.
Johnathan and his parents said they appreciated hearing from Woburn police Wednesday and the Middlesex district attorney’s office Thursday that a joint investigation had produced sufficient evidence for the police to seek charges against his alleged assailants.
The family expressed frustration, however, that nearly four months had passed since they reported the incident, while a football player who allegedly groped Johnathan during the locker room episode was permitted to remain on the football team and compete in the program’s first-ever Thanksgiving week game at Fenway Park. Two other players who face possible charges remained on the team as well.
“It’s outrageous,” Kevin Coucelos said. “If there was an assault and battery on Main Street, someone would have been arrested on the spot and gone before a judge. It never should have taken this long.”
Worse, Coucelos said, is that none of the football coaches or the athletic director has been disciplined for their alleged failure to properly supervise the team and monitor the locker room. Johnathan’s parents particularly blamed athletic director Jim Duran, head football coach Jack Belcher, and assistant coach Chase Andrews.
Johnathan said he immediately reported the locker room incident to Andrews but felt ignored by him. Hahn said prosecutors declined a request to file charges against Andrews, but that the family has not ruled out pressing charges.
The Woburn police and Middlesex DA’s office declined to comment.
As for Belcher, Hahn said, “There needs to be at least some disciplinary consequence to the head coach because it’s his coaching squad and his team.”
The Globe’s attempts to reach Belcher, Andrews, and Duran were unsuccessful.
The Coucelos family said Callanan, the school principal, failed to protect Johnathan in part by waiting to impose a safety plan on the student who allegedly groped him until they obtained a harassment prevention order against him in juvenile court in December, more than two months after the incident.
Efforts to reach Callanan also were unsuccessful.
If the clerk magistrate finds probable cause Tuesday to issue criminal complaints against the students, they would go before a Juvenile Court judge for arraignment. Police have applied for criminal complaints of assault and battery against all seven students, and an additional charge of indecent assault and battery for the student who allegedly touched Johnathan’s genitals.
Johnathan said he was attacked in the freshman locker room Sept. 25 as retribution for junior varsity and freshman players being disciplined after he fought a student who repeatedly poked him under the bleachers during a varsity game Sept. 10. The players had been instructed not to congregate under the bleachers.
A video recording of the locker room incident shows about a dozen players swarming Johnathan, spraying him with water, and throwing water bottles at him. One player is seen punching him and another is heard shouting, “Take his [stuff],” before one of them rips his Apple watch from his wrist.
Another teammate is seen bending toward Johnathan, who said the player pulled down his pants and grabbed his genitals.
Johnathan said he later was targeted by students who chided him for not fighting back and for “snitching.” One student who faces a possible assault charge allegedly punched him several times in a school bathroom.
Another student, a former football player, allegedly entered Johnathan’s Spanish class, grabbed him by the shirt, and warned him to stop snitching.
Johnathan’s parents said he was vibrant and outgoing before the attacks. He has since become isolated, withdrawn, and distrustful, and is now receiving psychiatric care, they said.
Jeanny Coucelos said the experience has made her fearful for the safety of all four of her children. She has been diagnosed with severe anxiety and panic disorder, she said, and has been unable to resume her job as a day care and pre-kindergarten teacher since December.
Kevin Coucelos, a construction foreman and machine operator, said his job performance also has suffered because of the stress.
Since January, Johnathan has been tutored remotely by a Woburn school teacher. Now, six months after he proudly joined the Woburn football program, he is preparing for the challenge of starting a new life at Matignon.