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Mater Dei football players broke a student athlete’s jaw in a planned attack, lawsuit says

Rollinson wears a red Mater Dei polo shirt
The report of a 2019 assault that left a student athlete with a broken jaw follows an allegation that Mater Dei football coach Bruce Rollinson looked the other way while players engaged in hazing rituals.
(Jerome Miron)

A Mater Dei High School student athlete suffered a broken jaw in an attack orchestrated by a classmate and carried out by two football players who repeatedly punched him in the head and the face, according to a lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court.

The details of the beating, described in a May lawsuit and first reported this week, follow weeks of controversy over the conduct of players and adults involved in the storied Santa Ana football program. A lawsuit filed late last month accused the school of a culture of hazing following a a violent locker-room altercation that left a new player with a traumatic brain injury.

Mater Dei, the consensus No. 1 team in the nation, will play in the state championship Saturday against San Mateo Serra.

The lawsuit over the athlete’s broken jaw was first reported by the Orange County Register. The complaint describes an “orchestrated attack” in 2019 planned by a Mater Dei student who erroneously believed that a basketball player had shared an embarrassing video of him online.

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The student tracked down the basketball player on a Sunday night through mutual friends who were hanging out with him in Irvine, the lawsuit said. The student shared the address with two football players, intending to use their “physical strength and presence” to intimidate and hurt the player, the lawsuit said.

Mater Dei High’s elite football program is home to a culture of hazing that led to a player’s traumatic brain injury, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

As the basketball player walked toward his Uber, the football players confronted him on the front lawn and punched him in the back of the head, the complaint said. They then punched him repeatedly in the head and in the face, knocking him to the ground and leaving him disoriented, the lawsuit said.

The basketball player was left with a broken jaw and severe injuries to the back of his head, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit names the two players accused of committing the assault — a linebacker and a defensive lineman for Mater Dei — as well as the classmate accused of planning it. The Times is not naming them, nor the student who filed the lawsuit, because they were juveniles at the time of the alleged assault.

David Nisson, an attorney representing the two football players, said he could not discuss details because the case involves minors. But he wrote in a September court filing that the basketball player had “consumed an excessive amount of alcohol which made him unable to care for the safety of himself or the safety of others at the time of the alleged incident.”

Nisson also wrote in the court filing that his clients were acting in self-defense after the basketball player allegedly directed a crowd to attack them and that they “used only the minimum of force necessary to defend themselves from an attacking mob which they thought wanted to kill them.”

Pete Hardin, a former federal prosecutor, is questioning why Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer did not follow a police recommendation to file felony charges in the aftermath of a violent locker-room fight that, according to a recently filed lawsuit, left a teenage football player with a traumatic brain injury.

Mater Dei and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange are not named as parties in the lawsuit. Mater Dei President Father Walter Jenkins did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Mater Dei is still grappling with the fallout from the lawsuit filed late last month that accused the school and the diocese of negligence, violation of California’s anti-hazing laws and infliction of emotional distress.

Filed by the family of a former football player, the complaint described a culture of hazing and a “rigorous, cutthroat” attitude at an institution that “protects its storied athletic reputation at all costs.”

The student’s injury stemmed from a Feb. 4 bout of “Bodies,” in which two players square off and punch each other on the torso until one player “can’t take it anymore and gives up,” the lawsuit said. The student, a junior who joined the team the previous fall, agreed to participate in an “effort to fit in and show he was tough enough,” according to the complaint.

During the fight, the student was struck repeatedly in the head by a bigger player, the lawsuit said. Afterward, the student’s teammates followed him into a bathroom and warned him not to snitch, the lawsuit said.

When an athletic trainer eventually examined the student’s injuries, he said he had hit his face on a sink. The lawsuit alleges that the trainer didn’t call for medical assistance and didn’t contact the plaintiff’s parents for 90 minutes.

The school has said it will hire an outside firm to conduct an independent investigation into the incident.

Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer said last week that his office had not filed criminal charges in the locker-room brawl because there was “no evidence of hazing or any other crime that we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.” His opponent in next year’s election has called for a child endangerment investigation into Mater Dei football coach Bruce Rollinson.

Days after the lawsuit was filed, the Monarchs won the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section championship. Asked about the roller-coaster week, Rollinson said: “I just won a CIF championship. It doesn’t get any better than that.”


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