Two Ooltewah High School coaches and the school's athletic director face charges because prosecutors say they knew four freshman basketball players were assaulted on a team trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn., and didn't report it.
Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston filed the charges Thursday against the three for failing to report child abuse or suspected child sexual abuse in connection with the alleged rape that took place Dec. 22 in a rented cabin.
Local investigators are still working to determine the scope of criminal activity in the case, and are looking into allegations of an "ingrained culture of violence among the football and basketball teams at [Ooltewah High School] reaching back several years," said Melydia Clewell, spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office.
Just hours after the charges were filed in Juvenile Court, the Hamilton County Board of Education held a public forum where parents and students from across the district described the bullying and assault they've experienced.
The crowded boardroom was silent as each person stood at the microphone telling their story, many pleading with the board for change.
Tonya McBryar told the board her son was beaten on an Ooltewah school bus four years ago. She said he has brain damage as a result of the assault.
McBryar said she knew problems like these in the school district would have to get worse before there was any change.
"But, I never imagined this would happen," she said. " I want answers. I want results. And I want change."
April Elaster told the board she has been "to hell and back to try to get someone to listen" from the school district about the assault of her son at school.
Two students from Howard High School said bullying and fighting are problems plaguing their school.
Kimberly Sings said she knows many kids at Howard who are afraid to talk about being bullied because it oftentimes makes the problem worse.
Howard student Jada Moore said she can't get through a single class period at Howard without one of her classmates getting "out of control."
Not everyone who spoke before the board agreed.
Recent Ooltewah graduate Kyle Duckett said he hates how the school and coaches are receiving such negative attention.
He said the "witch hunt" needs to stop, and that his experience on the school's football team was much different than the way Ooltewah is currently being described in the media.
"To those who have told us stories tonight, I'm very sorry," School Board member Greg Martin told the crowd.
Fellow board member George Ricks said he thinks it's time to take a stand against bullying in schools.
"Too many of us have kept our mouth shut for too long," he said.
Following the meeting, Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith told reporters he learned of the charges against Ooltewah's head basketball coach Andre "Tank" Montgomery, assistant coach Karl Williams and Athletic Director Allard "Jesse" Nayadley through media reports just prior to the meeting.
He said upon hearing the information, he placed all three men on unpaid suspension pending the outcome of the investigation, adding that over the three decades he has spent in education he has never had to deal with a problem of this magnitude.
According to court documents, four freshman players were assaulted with pool cues and "subjected to apparent sexual assault." One player was rushed to a hospital in Knoxville where doctors performed surgery to repair a ruptured bladder and colon.
Mickey Rountree, a detective for the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, wrote in an affidavit that the Tennessee Department of Children's Services was not contacted by administrators from Ooltewah High School, the coaching staff or anyone from the Hamilton County Department of Education about the incident.
Records from Sevier County Juvenile Court state that two 16-year-olds and a 17-year-old are charged with aggravated rape and aggravated assault of the 15-year-old.
Clewell said additional charges against the three players are expected to be filed in Hamilton County.
The three men charged in Hamilton County are scheduled to appear before Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw on Thursday. No proof will be presented during that appearance, and the three men will simply plead "guilty" or "not guilty" to the class A misdemeanor, said Sam Mairs, an official with Hamilton County Juvenile Court.
If they plead guilty they could be issued a fine of up to $2,500. If they plead not guilty the case will be sent to the Grand Jury.
The school board also discussed policies relating to bullying and reporting of abuse Thursday night, and watched a demonstration on how the district's new anonymous reporting system works.
Assistant Superintendent Lee McDade showed the board how students can now send anonymous reports to their principal and his office about reports of bullying and abuse. He said each report will be investigated and it will allow the district to track patterns across the district.
Since the site launched Wednesday night, McDade said several reports have already been sent. He said all students will be told about how to access the site on their school's website.
Martin, chairman of the board's policy committee, said he hopes the district will also develop a way for students to make reports over the phone so that kids do not need Internet access to use the system.
As Martin led the conversation about the board's policies, he reminded the public that it takes time to change policies, saying this discussion is just the beginning.
Prior to the meeting, McDade drafted a new bullying and harassment policy for the board, but members didn't have time to review it and did not discuss the proposed policy at length and instead talked about what they want to see in the new policy.
School board member Karitsa Mosley said she wants students from across the district to be involved in drafting the policy, and that it be written in language students understand.
She said she also wants to make sure the policy meets all 13 requirements of state law and "there are no murky areas."
The board is expected to continue discussion about updating policies over the next couple of weeks, and Smith said he thinks this will bring needed change. This incident served as "a wake-up call," he said.
Smith added that policies only can do so much and that training needs to be done on the individual level with students and Hamilton County employees.
"It's logical for us to start addressing this problem as a society," Smith said. "Schools are a great place to start building a different culture."
Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow on twitter @kendi_and.