Washington (CNN) – Phillip Maxwell wishes he had done something to stop it.
Maxwell, a Michigan attorney, is still haunted by what he claims he witnessed on the campus of the state's elite Cranbrook School in 1965: a young Mitt Romney and a group of friends holding down a classmate named John Lauber and cutting off chunks of his long hair.
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"It was not an event you take a lot of pride in. And it was that way for all of us," Maxwell told CNN.
Maxwell confirmed the story, first reported in the Washington Post. However, he insisted the incident was far worse than a high school prank.
"I'm a lawyer. I know what an assault is. This kid was scared. He was terrified. That's an assault," Maxwell said.
Romney said in an interview with Fox News Radio he does not recall the incident described in the Post article. But the former Massachusetts governor acknowledged he engaged in pranks that "might have gone too far" and apologized for any harm done during his time at Cranbrook.
"Back in high school, I did some dumb things, and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that," Romney said.
Maxwell told CNN he is disappointed in Romney's response to the story.
"He says he doesn't remember it and I find it difficult to believe," Maxwell said in a telephone interview.
"It's unfortunate that Mitt simply hasn't owned up to his behavior," he added.
Maxwell, who told ABC News he is a registered independent who has voted for both Democrats and Republicans, said the episode is "relevant" in the campaign as a window into Romney's character.
"I guess you have to take it into account. Are you the kind of person who would stop the abuse of an innocent person?" Maxwell asked.
In an interview on a separate topic for the June issue of Automobile Magazine, however, Maxwell said he will not be casting his ballot for Romney, though added praise for the candidate.
"I'm a Democrat, so I won't vote for him," says Maxwell. "But he'd probably make a pretty good president. He's very smart, very principled.
To this day, Maxwell regrets he will never have the chance to make amends with Lauber who, according to the Post, died in 2004.
"I wish I could have apologized to him," Maxwell said.
Lauber's family said they were "aggrieved that John would be used to further a political agenda," according to a statement obtained by The New York Times.
Late Thursday, the Romney campaign provided statements from other former classmates of the GOP contender.
"Mitt was a thoughtful guy with a great sense of humor who cared about his classmates. He had a good perspective on how to balance all the pressures high school students face. He would never go out and do anything mean spirited. Clownish, yes. Never mean," Richard Moon, one ex-classmate said in the statement furnished by the campaign.
"Mitt never had a malicious bone in his body – trying to imply or characterize him as a bully is absurd," John French, another former classmate, said in another statement released by Romney's staff.
Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said French "wasn't involved in incident and doesn't remember it happening." She did not elaborate on the statement issued by Moon.
Mitt Romney is a sociopath; he has no empathy for the harm he may do to others. This case, the dog, the layoffs at Bain, it all fits a pattern of someone who is completely unmoved by the sufferings of others. He has vociferously defended the layoffs that he ordered at Bain Capital, and yes, they were probably necessary, but he has never said anything that indicated any sympathy or regret for the people who lost their jobs. Remember Clinton's "I feel your pain"? Romney doesn't.
Another story about nothing.....I DID NOT INHALE!!!!
Our core values are reflected at a young age. This rich preppy was a homophobic jerk, and now he's exactly the same person – but with Karl Rove to give him things to say.
I would be concerned that he has Alzheimer's. I'm over 50 and I can remember every prank I pulled in high school, especially the ones that involved a group. He is either too feeble minded to be President or he is a liar. My Mom is over 80 and has Alzheimer's and can remember what pranks she pulled in high school, she has told me about them.
Curious the Romney people keep saying that Romney has no recollection of the incident, but that they know French wasn't one of the participants.
If the story wasn't true the Romney campaign would not have gone out and found 2 of his classmates to say what a nice guy he was and that he would not hurt anyone. Does that include not hurting an innocent dog?
I THINK HE DOTH PROTEST TOO MUCH!!!
My goodness, is poor Mr. Romney suffering from early-onset dementia, or were there so many similar incidents during his teen years they all blur together? That incident should have been burned into his memory, and served as a lesson for greater understanding and compassion toward others, especially people who do not fit into his view of 'normal'.
Are you kidding me? This is what CNN is resorting to? Bring up things that happened 50 years ago when someone was a high school kid? Plus, this a-hole who call himself a "lawyer" calling it an "assault"? If that's the case, you may as well charge all high school kids with assault. This is beneath CNN and all democrats to try this sort of character assassination. I was leaning toward Romney, but now I'm definitely voting for him. Where is the outrage about Obama smoking pot in college? Where is the outrage about Obama hangout with Bill Ayers, the terrorist? Plus, those happened while Obama was an adult and even a Senator. You guys are bringing up things about Romney from his high school days in the 60's? How pathetic!
Innocent people don't apologize.
Liberals are incredibly desperate if they are trying to pin a prank in high school on the guy. How about the social relationships that Obama had with fanatical activists when he was much older? I guess those don't suit their agenda?
Why on earth would anyone apologize for something they believe did not occur?
Young Romney,..a spoiled brat, with a rich and powerful father, acted like a bully, indulging in pranks against innocent victims, knowing fully well, that he would never be brought up on the carpet. The fact is,.. he exhibited some of those bullying and ruthless traits later on in life,.. in his business dealings,..and mistreating his dog. Has he really learned anything?
First Romney said he 'doesn't recall the incident' then he says he 'certainly didn't know that the boy was gay'. Well... does he remember it or not?
What he did was assault and battery. But I guess when your dad is the governor of Michigan you can get away with a lot.
A bully is a bully. How sad for the young man who had such cruelty placed upon him.
This one will come to bite Mittens in the butt (pun intended)...
How just like an etch-a-sketch is Romney's memory. Just shake and forget. No wonder he changes his position on almost everything. He can't remember (or doesn't want to) what he says or does.
You'd think that if you had terrified a fellow student with a pair of scissors, you'd remember that.
Romney is a child of privilege and his daddy could buy his way out of anything. This is just one more neo-con who has never had a real working job in his life and has absolutely no touch of what life for the average American is like. Another George W. Bush, but on steroids.
Mr. Romney is a very confused man. His reasoning on the Gay issue is only one illustration of this.
This is another left wing calculated attack on Romney, the timing is no coincidence. I bet CNN will not headline any article in Romney's defense
He doesn't remember it? This doesn't rise to the level of something he would remember? Geez. What else has he done?
He doesn't remember it? This doesn't rise to the level of something he would remember? You have to ask, what else has he done?
Oh please, even if you don't disapprove of what he did in high school, for any Presidential candidate to say he doesn't remember something so severe means he either is suffering from alzheimer's, is a bold-faced liar, or was such a persistent chronic bully that this was merely one of the many cruel acts he performed. In any case if you would support any of these explanations I would find it hard to believe you could call yourself Christian-like or impartial.
Author, "Diary From the Dome, Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina"
Mitt Romney , Father of five sons all of whom avoided voluntary military service ..
Romney , Not my kinda leader !
This explains why Romney lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience. As a youth, his idea of a prank was to bully those who were perceived to be vulnerable. And, as an adult his callousness towards those who are seen as vulnerable is evidenced by his "love being able to fire people" and being "not concerned about the very poor."
If the Obama team needs to resort to digging up high school pranks over 45 years ago, they must be in deep trouble. Who hasn't done foolish things as a teen? I know Mitt Romney won't embarrass us with secret affairs or dirty deals like so many other politicians succumb to. He's squeaky clean or they would have found it by now.