Jail, therapy sought in summer camp assaults

Prosecutors want pair to serve 5 days for each incident

Robert Anglen
The Arizona Republic

The Yavapai County Attorney’s Office wants the two camp counselors who shoved broomsticks and other objects into the buttocks of 18 young boys at a Prescott summer camp to spend five days in jail for each victim.

Court documents also show that prosecutors are recommending the defendants serve three years of probation and go through a mental health screening "that includes sex-offender issues."

The prosecutor says Clifton Bennett, 18, son of state Senate president Ken Bennett, should spend 90 days in jail on one felony count of assault and that Kyle Wheeler, 19, should spend 180 days in jail on two felony counts.

The sentencing report, obtained by The Arizona Republic, is far more aggressive than the sentence that Yavapai County Attorney’s Office initially put on the table, according to victims and their lawyers.

"The prosecutor was only going to ask for five days, maximum, total," said Lynne Cadigan who represents two of the victims in a civil suit. She said the parents and the victims are not totally satisfied with the recommendation; many wanted longer jail sentences but are satisfied with the sexual counseling.

Prosecutors have refused to comment publicly on the case.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Thomas O’Toole, who is overseeing the Prescott case, will sentence Bennett and Wheeler at a hearing Friday.

Their lawyers would not comment on the sentencing report.

A separate report from the Maricopa County probation department recommends that Bennett and Wheeler serve two months in jail and calls for the sentence to be "undesignated," meaning felony charges could be reduced to misdemeanors.

The probation report makes no mention of sex-offender counseling.

As part of a plea deal, Bennett and Wheeler pleaded guilty last month to one count of assault. Wheeler pleaded guilty to an additional count for choking three of the boys until they passed out.

The plea agreement outraged many parents of victims, who said the defendants should have been charged with a sex crime. But Deputy County Attorney James Landis said the assaults were not sexual in nature. Instead, he said, they were a form of hazing while the kids were clothed.

The assaults occurred in June at a youth camp for Arizona junior high student leaders.

In his report, Landis said the victims were taught "how to play nasty games, to bully, to intimidate and to punish."

Mary Alice Motcheck, whose son was the first to report the assaults to authorities, said Wednesday that she is "content" with the sentencing report because it forces Bennett and Wheeler to get psychosexual counseling. But she is still angry with the prosecutor.

"They should have been charged with molestation of a child," said Motcheck, who is suing Bennett and the association that sponsored the camp.

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