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Two coaches in hazing case plan to sue Lockport, cop

The two Wilson High School coaches who faced charges that were later dropped in the baseball hazing case have filed notice they intend to sue the City of Lockport and one of its police officers for allegedly contributing to their arrest.

Coaches Thomas J. Baia and William M. Atlas assert in a notice of claim served on the city Wednesday that Officer Michael Stover "contributed to the unlawful arrest, detention, prosecution and/or malicious prosecution."

The coaches were charged by state police with endangering the welfare of a child, on the theory that they could or should have stopped alleged assaults on junior varsity players by varsity players on the team bus twice in April 2008.

The case originally was described by state police as aggravated sexual abuse, but the Niagara County district attorney's office later dropped that felony charge.

Three varsity players were arrested. In July, two were acquitted in a nonjury trial before Wilson Town Judge George R. Berger that was closed to the public because of the players' ages. The third pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was granted youthful offender status.

The charges against the coaches were dropped July 6, the day their trial was to have begun. District Attorney Michael J. Violante, as well as Assistant District Attorney Robert A. Zucco, who prosecuted the case, never explained that decision.

A spokesman for the two coaches said Stover gave a deposition in the case.

"Mike Stover had a problem with a deposition," said Mike Paul, spokesman for Atlas and Baia. He wouldn't say to whom Stover gave a deposition or why he would have been involved in the case.

But The Buffalo News learned that Stover is the boyfriend of a woman whose son allegedly was the victim of hazing on the Wilson baseball team in 2007, the year before the coaches were charged.

The prosecution tried to introduce evidence of alleged hazing incidents on the Wilson baseball team before 2008, but Berger refused to allow it.

"I think Mike was involved to some degree as a witness," Lockport Police Chief Lawrence M. Eggert said. "Whatever his involvement was, it was as a civilian, not as an employee of the Police Department."

Zucco, the prosecutor, at first declined comment on whether Stover was involved, but he did respond when told of the notice of claim.

"That's ridiculous. A lot of people were witnesses in the case," he said. "If they're going to sue them all, they should be ashamed of themselves."

Eggert said he was "flabbergasted" by the notice of claim because his department played no role in the hazing case.

Paul said that although the State Police led the investigation, other police agencies were involved in the case in its early stages.

If so, Eggert said, Lockport wasn't among them. "We have no investigative interest in this," he said. "We supplied no investigative support. We were never invited, consulted, anything."

Lockport Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano also denied Lockport police played any role in the Wilson hazing investigation.

Stover could not be reached for comment Thursday.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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