A police detective from a Tennessee resort town has been indicted on aggravated perjury charges stemming from his testimony about the alleged sexual assault of high school basketball players by their teammates in a hazing case that outraged authorities in the boys' hometown.
The Hamilton County District Attorney's office announced Friday that a grand jury had indicted Gatlinburg police detective Rodney Burns on two felony counts regarding his testimony at a Feb. 15 preliminary hearing for three Ooltewah High School officials who faced charges of failing to report a sexual assault. Burns testified during the hearing that the assault had been blown out of proportion and was "something stupid that kids do." The offense could net a sentence of 2 to 4 years, the prosecutor said in a statement.
Burns' lawyer, Bryan Delius, said in a statement that "although Detective Burns vehemently denies that he committed perjury, he immediately made arrangements to turn himself in this morning." Delius added that he looks forward to "aggressively defending" Burns against "this ridiculous prosecution."
It's the latest step in a case that now includes juvenile aggravated rape charges against three teens, an indictment against the team's coach on charges of failing to report and an indictment against the detective who investigated the case.
Public outrage also helped force the Chattanooga-based Hamilton County schools superintendent out of his job. Rick Smith announced in March that he was retiring July 1 and taking leave effective immediately.
Gatlinburg police have charged three Ooltewah players with the aggravated rape of one freshman teammate Dec. 22 in a cabin while their team was participating in a holiday tournament. Police say the freshman required emergency surgery after three teammates held him down and assaulted him with a pool cue.
But officials in Hamilton County, where Ooltewah is located, say four players were "subjected to apparent sexual assault" during that trip to Gatlinburg, which is in Sevier County.
The case against Burns focuses on his testimony at a hearing for Ooltewah coach Andre Montgomery, assistant coach Karl Williams and athletic director Allard Nayadley. The three school officials faced charges in Hamilton County for failure to report child sexual abuse.
"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 testified in February. "It was an assault, really. It just happened that the end result fit the definition of aggravated rape."
Two days after the hearing, the Hamilton County District Attorney's office ordered an investigation into whether Burns had given "perjurious testimony." About a month later, Burns filed a $300,000 defamation claim. It said Hamilton County District Attorney General's Neal Pinkston's comments about Burns' testimony had threatened the detective's reputation as an officer and had caused him depression and anxiety.
Delius criticized Pinkston again Friday.
He said in his statement that he had tried to get Pinkston recused "based on his clear interest in the outcome of this case due to the pending civil claim lodged against" him. Delius said he had also asked that a grand jury hear testimony from a Sevier County prosecutor "to explain to the grand jury that Detective Burns was innocent of any wrongdoing." Delius added that "apparently none of this was considered and General Pinkston continues his attack against Detective Burns, a most highly regarded detective with the Gatlinburg Police Department."
The Hamilton County District Attorney's office said it would make no additional comment on the case.
The news of the Burns indictment came two days after Hamilton County officials said Montgomery had been indicted on four counts of failing to report child sexual abuse.
Nayadley, one of the officials charged with failure to report, agreed last week to a pretrial diversion program.
Tennessee law requires school officials to report any suspected child sexual abuse to the state Department of Children's Services, to the sheriff or police chief where the children reside or to 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.