Charges stick against school officials in players rape case

AP News
|
Posted: Jan 21, 2016 8:14 PM

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee school superintendent asked for a buyout of his contract Thursday, hours after a judge declined to dismiss charges against three high school officials accused of failing to report the sexual abuse of high school basketball players by teammates.

At a Hamilton County school board meeting Thursday afternoon, Superintendent Rick Smith said the school system was "bigger than any one person." He said the alleged assaults on players attending a basketball tournament in Gatlinburg on Dec. 22 represented a tragedy "that I know all of us will live with and struggle with," but added that the district would "get to a place where we can heal from this and get better."

David Testerman, one of three board members who voted against the buyout, praised Smith for his work in the district and said he was being criticized "without reason and without any evidence."

"We will probably get what we deserve out of this," Testerman said. "It'll be very, very hard to find a qualified superintendent to replace Rick Smith. Who would want the job?"

Earlier in the day, Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Robert Philyaw refused to dismiss the charges against the three Ooltewah High School officials after hearing arguments from lawyers representing Ooltewah High basketball coach Andre Montgomery, assistant coach Karl Williams and athletic director Allard Nayadley.

A preliminary hearing is set for Feb. 15.

The Hamilton County District Attorney's Office filed an affidavit last week saying "four freshmen basketball players were subjected to assaultive behavior including but not limited to being struck with pool cues and also these four freshman basketball players were subjected to apparent sexual assault." The affidavit said one player required emergency surgery.

According to the affidavit, the assaults took place at a cabin while Ooltewah's team was participating in a tournament in Gatlinburg.

Gatlinburg Police have charged three Ooltewah players with the aggravated rape of one player but haven't announced any other charges. The names of the players facing charges haven't been released because they are juveniles.

In its complaint filed last week, the district attorney's office noted that Tennessee law requires "mandatory reports of child abuse, apparent child sexual abuse or child sexual abuse." The affidavit said the three officials didn't notify the Department of Children's Services or the sheriff or police chief in the county or town where the players live, nor did they inform the juvenile court judge who had jurisdiction over them.

Hamilton County school officials have suspended the three officials without pay. Superintendent Smith announced on Jan. 6 that he was calling off the rest of Ooltewah's season.

Lawyers representing the Ooltewah officials said the misdemeanor charges should be dismissed, in part because the complaint was filed in Hamilton County, while the assaults are said to have taken place in Sevier County. Philyaw said charges still could be filed in Hamilton County because that's where the people involved reside.

Lee Davis, a lawyer representing Nayadley, said his client was staying about 15 miles away from the cabin where the assaults allegedly took place. Davis said Nayadley notified the Ooltewah High principal as soon as he learned about the situation.