State senator’s son, 2nd teen admit ‘brooming’
PHOENIX — The son of state Senate President Ken Bennett admitted in court Monday to assaulting middle school boys with a broomstick in their rectal areas, but a judge allowed charges against him to be reduced from 18 to one, and he may avoid jail.
Three of the 18 victims, all boys between the ages of 11 and 15, are from Tucson, and the families are angry that 18-year-old Clifton Bennett and co-defendant Kyle Wheeler, 19, were not charged with sexual assault.
Also, the families said Bennett is being treated favorably by the court system because of his father’s position in the Legislature. Bennett’s plea would allow the court to classify the aggravated-assault conviction as a misdemeanor, which means he could go on to become a teacher or counselor and would never have to disclose the so-called "brooming" incident.
Bennett and Wheeler pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in court Monday. Bennett pleaded to one count and Wheeler to two.
"I think he got a sweetheart deal," said the father of one of the three Tucson victims, a 12-year-old boy who attends a local Catholic school. "I’d like him to get a year in prison. The victims should have been heard from before the plea was agreed to. If this was 18 girls who were victims, it would have been sexual assault."
Ken Bennett and his family would not comment Monday. The senator and his wife were in court throughout Monday’s hearing.
Bennett and Wheeler are scheduled to be sentenced on May 12 in either Phoenix or Prescott. Monday’s hearing took place in Phoenix before Judge Thomas W. O’Toole in Maricopa County Superior Court. O’Toole took the case after two Yavapai County judges recused themselves.
The maximum term for each aggravated-assault count is two years in prison, but probation also is possible.
Police reports say the assaults took place at Chapel Rock Camp in Prescott during a weeklong camp for school leaders in June. Witnesses told police that the junior counselors lined up the youngsters, told them to bend over and "broomsticked" them. The boys told police "broomsticking" was done alternately with a broom, a cane, a mop handle and a heavy-duty flashlight while they were clothed.
"If these were two kids from South Tucson without money or connections, they would never have been offered this deal," said Lynne M. Cadigan, a Tucson attorney who is representing two of the families.
Stephen Carrigan, a Houston lawyer representing another 12-year-old victim, said it was unfair to his client to consolidate the charges from 18 to one.
Bennett read a statement to the court in which he admitted the brooming and said he did it with the intention of insulting them through humiliation.
"I know I personally broomed a number of the campers. I know I personally restrained a number of the campers. I now know this was an assault under the law," Bennett said. " ‘Brooming’ was the name given for the practice of poking a camper, while clothed, in the area of the butt. A broom handle, a cane and a flashlight handle were the objects used. I know all of the campers were broomed at least once."