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Federal lawsuit by former USMMA soccer players dismissed

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Attorneys for the plaintiffs and the Kings Point academy agreed to the dismissal, according to the order entered by a U.S. District Court judge.

The federal lawsuit against the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy by several former soccer players for the Kings Point school under federal investigation for alleged sexual assault of another player has been dismissed, according to court papers filed Thursday.

“The case was dismissed by agreement of all the parties,” said John Marzulli, spokesman in Central Islip for the Eastern District of New York.

The dismissal by U.S. District Court Judge Joanna Seybert came 10 months after seven USMMA seniors filed the complaint, days after Rear Adm. James A. Helis, the academy’s superintendent, placed them on deferred graduate status shortly before the school’s June 2017 commencement.

The seniors had alleged that Helis’ action violated their constitutional right to due process.

The seven were among a group of upperclassmen soccer players under investigation by the Office of Inspector General in the U.S. Department of Transportation, the federal agency that oversees the 75-year-old service academy.

Officials with the U.S. Maritime Administration, which operates the Kings Point academy, would not comment on the investigation, which centered on allegations of sexually abusive acts against a freshman player on the team bus in September 2016 and bullying for at least a month afterward, according to the academy’s disciplinary charges, which were read aloud in court during a July proceeding.

U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Wexler, now deceased, allowed the seven midshipmen to participate in USMMA’s graduation ceremony last June, but their diplomas, U.S. Coast Guard credentials and other commissioning documents were withheld.

The seven received their degrees and other documents later after participating in individual, closed administrative hearings at the academy and completing an assignment, Newsday confirmed in November.

Seybert, in her orders, dismissed the action “without prejudice,” meaning the plaintiffs could bring it before her again.

Six of the plaintiffs, joined in one case, were Connor Culiver of Scottsdale, Arizona; David Burkhardt of Cutchogue; Michael Heckmuller of Cypress, California; Gavin Yingling of Salisbury, Maryland; Cory Maier of Hampton, Virginia; and Brennan Becker of Weston, Florida. The complaint of Timothy Hughes of upstate Ballston Lake was separate.

Shaun Hogan and Michael Cassell, the Jericho-based attorneys for Culiver, Burkhardt, Heckmuller, Yingling and Maier, and Ronald Meister, the Manhattan attorney for Becker, did not respond to requests for comment.

Erick Kraemer, the Buffalo attorney for Hughes, said his client chose in November not to pursue the complaint further.

“He got the relief he is requesting and obtained his license,” Kraemer said.

Seybert also denied a request to “maintain the status quo” in the case from New Jersey-based lawyer Thomas Grasso, representing the student who says he was abused, and who had informed the court he was preparing a motion to intervene on his client’s behalf.

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