CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — A judge ruled Monday there that there was enough probable cause to proceed with charges against three Tennessee high school officials facing allegations they failed to report the sexual abuse of school basketball players by teammates.
Ooltewah High School basketball coach Andre Montgomery, assistant coach Karl Williams and athletic director Allard Nayadley each pleaded not guilty. The case now goes before a grand jury.
"Another court may determine they acted ... completely appropriate," Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Robert Philyaw said. "That's not what I'm asked to do today. I'm asked to determine whether probable cause was met, and that's the ruling of the court."
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.
Gatlinburg Police charged three Ooltewah players with the aggravated rape of one player Dec. 22. The players charged haven't been named because they're juveniles. They have a hearing scheduled for March 15.
In its affidavit, the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office noted that Tennessee law required the school officials to report any suspected child sexual abuse to the state Department of Children's Services, the sheriff or police chief where the children reside or the juvenile court with jurisdiction over them. The Ooltewah officials instead took the child to a hospital and contacted police in Sevier County, where the alleged incident took place.
Lawyers representing the school officials noted the ambiguity of the statute and said their clients were being unfairly singled out.
They also pointed out that most of the witnesses at Monday's hearing said the Ooltewah officials had acted appropriately. Johnny Houston, the lawyer representing Williams, said his client was a volunteer coach who hadn't received any training on who he needed to contact in this type of situation.
"I don't think there's any way you can find fault with these three men in how they reacted to a terrible situation at a Christmas tournament," said Lee Davis, the lawyer representing Nayadley.
Among the witnesses who said the school officials handled the incident properly was Rodney Burns, a Gatlinburg police detective. Burns said "what this case actually is, is much smaller than what it's been blown up to be."
"This was something stupid that kids do that shouldn't have been done, but it wasn't done for sexual gratification or really sexual in nature," Burns said. "It was an assault, really. It just happened that the end result fit the definition of aggravated rape."
Burns said his interviews with Ooltewah players revealed a history of hazing involving the basketball team. He said one of the defendants told him he'd been hit with pool cues by teammates years earlier and older players had turned out the lights in the locker room and started punching teammates.
The judge said he was troubled by the testimony.
Ooltewah principal Jim Jarvis said "we have never had issues with hazing or bullying to my knowledge."