Pressure mounting on school leaders in Ooltewah rape case

Pressure mounting on school leaders in Ooltewah rape case

January 21st, 2016 by Kendi A. Rainwater in Local Regional News

Commissioner Sabrena Turner-Smedley

Commissioner Sabrena Turner-Smedley

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

POLL: Should schools Superintendent Rick Smith step down?

Pressure is mounting for the Hamilton County school board to discuss the future of Superintendent Rick Smith following the alleged rape of an Ooltewah High School freshman.

Hamilton County commissioners voiced frustration in their meeting Wednesday about Smith and the school district's silence in the wake of the Dec. 22 assault, encouraging the school board to take action.

Commissioner Sabrena Turner-Smedley, chairwoman of the education committee, said she's received calls from people across the county concerned about the district's handling of this situation.

"It seems that the public has lost confidence in a system that they feel is broken, and they feel that we have some authority in this situation since we are the funding body," said Smedley, a graduate of Ooltewah High School.

Smith has received criticism for allowing 20 days to pass before deciding to talk publicly about the situation, and he since has said he regrets his silence and also wishes he had taken action and canceled the team's basketball season the day he heard about the assault. He canceled the season two weeks after the attack. At that point, the team already had played four games since the attack.

Rheubin Taylor, the county's attorney, told the commission they have no authority over hiring and firing Smith, or the school board's decisions.

"You have no authority other than the appropriation of funding as requested by the school board," Taylor said. "That's it."

Commissioner Greg Beck said his support of the district's leadership is fading, citing concerns over three years of below-average test scores and Smith's silence after the Ooltewah assault.

Beck said he questions whether the district's current leadership can improve the school system, and he thinks it's time for the school board to consider a change.

"We do not have authority," Beck said. "But we do have this microphone."

Hamilton County Board of Education Chairman Jonathan Welch said Wednesday he was not sure if the topic of Smith's future will be addressed during today's meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m.

"Just like everybody else, we've learned something new [in this case] every day," Welch said. "Every piece of information helps us make better decisions for our schools and taxpayers."

Tuesday night, the school board was briefed privately by Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston about the ongoing criminal investigation, and then continued to talk behind closed doors with their attorney, Scott Bennett, about the threat of pending litigation.

Smith was not present at Tuesday night's meeting and did not return a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Superintendent Rick Smith speaks at a Hamilton County Board of Education meeting in 2015.

Superintendent Rick Smith speaks at a Hamilton County...

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Three adults charged in connection with the alleged rape of the freshman are scheduled to appear in court today.

Ooltewah's head coach Andre "Tank" Montgomery, assistant coach Karl Williams and the school's athletic director Allard "Jesse" Nayadley are scheduled to appear in Hamilton County Juvenile Court.

Attorneys representing both Nayadley and Williams said their clients should not be charged in this case. Montgomery's attorney, Curtis L. Bowe III, did not return a request for comment Wednesday.

Pinkston filed charges against them last week for failing to report child abuse or suspected child sexual abuse in connection with this case, which is required by state law. Court documents filed at the time said four freshman players were assaulted with pool cues and "subjected to apparent sexual assault," during the team's trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn.

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 a 15-year-old player who was taken to a hospital in Knoxville where doctors performed surgery to repair a ruptured bladder and colon. The three teenagers are charged in Sevier County with aggravated rape and aggravated assault.

Documents said authorities in Sevier County were notified of the assault by hospital staff and not by administrators from Ooltewah High School, the coaching staff or anyone from the Hamilton County Department of Education.

Melydia Clewell, spokeswoman for the Hamilton County District Attorney's office, said the three adults are charged because they had firsthand knowledge the basketball players were abused and were in Sevier County during the time of the assault.

During today's hearing, proof will not be presented, and the three men will simply plead "guilty" or "not guilty" to the class A misdemeanor, Sam Mairs, an official with Hamilton County Juvenile Court, previously told the Times Free Press.

If they plead guilty, a fine of up to $2,500 could be issued. If they plead not guilty the case will be sent to the grand jury.

Attorney Johnny Houston, who is representing Williams, said his client plans to plead "not guilty" in today's hearing.

Houston said the charges against Williams have no merit and "the public will find that Mr. Williams completely complied with the law requiring the reporting of what happened in Sevier County."

Houston said Williams is a good person with a clean record who has been volunteering as an assistant coach with the team for three years. Houston said there has been unfair speculation about Williams failing to report or hide what happened during the trip.

"He is embarrassed and understandably concerned about these charges despite his innocence," Houston said in a statement.

Lee Davis, who is representing Nayadley, said both of them will be in court today, but he plans to file a 10-page motion before the hearing asking Judge Rob Philyaw to dismiss charges against Nayadley.

In the motion, Davis says, the complaint filed against Nayadley does not specify that he had knowledge of the alleged abuse or that any victims complained to him about the abuse and he failed to report it.

"Mr. Nayadley is the athletic director, but more importantly, he is the father of a 15-year-old son who is on the basketball team," Davis said in a written statement. "Mr. Nayadley was in Gatlinburg to see his son's team play and he had no knowledge of any misconduct."

Davis said when Nayadley learned of the incident he immediately notified his principal, who in turn notified the superintendent's office. He added that Nayadley has been fully cooperating with the investigation.

"[Nayadley] was not present when the events happened, he is not a witness to these events, and he has no information any different from the principal he reported to, other parents with players on the team or others who later learned of these tragic events," according to Davis.

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow on twitter @kendi_and.

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