A Chattanooga attorney representing Ooltewah High School basketball coach Andre Montgomery said the actions of three team members should not diminish Montgomery's reputation or his contributions to the school.
Montgomery's attorney Curtis L. Bowe III, emailed a statement to the Times Free Press on Sunday night in which he said Montgomery is not responsible for the alleged actions of the players who were arrested and charged with aggravated rape and aggravated assault of a younger teammate during the team's trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn.
"There is a plethora of speculation and vilification, based on inaccurate reporting of the central events," Bowe wrote in the statement. " The justice system will resolve our community's injured player's issues, not public sentiment."
The assault took place just days before Christmas while the team was staying at a rented cabin and playing in the Smoky Mountain Classic basketball tournament. The attack and arrests claimed international headlines.
The statement, released Sunday, said the actions of the boys charged in the assault are inconsistent with what Montgomery knows of them in the classroom and the athletic arena.
"However, while out of character, this act is neither acceptable nor excusable and certainly not condoned by Coach Montgomery," according to the statement. It goes on to say Ooltewah High School does not have a culture of sexual assault, nor does the school encourage hazing and abuse.
Two mothers of boys who were on the trip said their sons also were punched, kicked and hit with pool cues, but were able to return home safely. The 15-year-old victim was rushed to the hospital with a ruptured colon and bladder, sources tell the Times Free Press, and now is resting at home after surgery.
The mothers will not be identified by the Times Free Press in order to protect their sons' identities.
One of the moms said the victim told a coach before the assault that bullying had occurred during the trip. After the coach told the older boys to stop the bullying, the situation escalated to the assault, she said her son told her.
However, both moms said they had no reason not to trust Montgomery and never expected something like this would happen during the trip.
The Ooltewah team is scheduled to play Hixson tonight at home.
Neither Montgomery nor Bowe returned requests for comment Sunday night. But the attorney's statement, citing Hamilton County Department of Education policy, said school board members should refrain from public criticism.
"Everyone needs to stop — even those charged with being impartial and unbiased as members of the HCDE School Board — asserting that someone else has to lose their job because they are responsible for the actions of three," Bowe wrote.
The statement mentions Ooltewah Athletic Director Jesse Nayadley and Principal James Jarvis for keeping cool and avoiding "knee jerk responses."
"To speculate, assume, or spin personal views designed to further political careers, or initiate an effort to have an employee dismissed through the start of a witch hunt, is improper and defamatory at best; and as a result, it is imperative that we all recognize that the issue affecting our community is not hazing or bullying," he wrote. "Rather, it is the unilateral decision of three individuals currently charged with a sexual offense. Sexual offenses must not be reduced to popular buzz words like hazing or bullying. Ever."
School board member Rhonda Thurman earlier told the Times Free Press she thinks the team's season should be canceled, and questioned why the team played a game the day after the assault.
Thurman did not say anything specifically against Montgomery, but did question how the coaches and chaperones did not know about the hazing or assault. She said the coaches should have been able to stop any bullying.
The statement says all Hamilton County Department of Education protocols and policies were followed during the trip.
Members of the county school board are scheduled to meet with the board's attorney Wednesday in a closed session to discuss the case.
Two national experts on the topic of masculinity and violence in sports last week told the Times Free Press the school system needs to do more than investigate the incident or ensure policies are followed. They called for evaluating athletic teams and stricter accountability for coaches as part of work needed to prevent such incidents.
Updated Jan. 3 at 11:15 p.m.