Charges dismissed against Ooltewah High School coach, lawmakers considering strengthening child abuse reporting laws
How to report child abuse:
To report child abuse or neglect in Tennessee call the Child Abuse Hotline at 877-237-0004. Reports can also be made online by visiting this secure sight, https://apps.tn.gov/carat/Source: Tennessee Department of Children’s Services
Nearly a year after the pool-cue rape of an Ooltewah High School freshman, charges have been dismissed against the school's former basketball coach, Andre "Tank" Montgomery.
Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole dismissed four charges of failure to report child sexual abuse, saying that under state law, the coach was not required to report the rape to authorities.
Poole reminded people in the courtroom he must make decisions based on the law. In this case, he interpreted state law to mean that adults have a legal obligation to report sexual abuse of a child aged 13 to 17 only if it is committed by a member of the child's household.
"Now, that doesn't mean there wouldn't be a moral requirement to report," Poole said.
He suggested it may be time for state lawmakers to clarify the intention and wording of the statute.
State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said he and other members of the local legislative delegation plan to address this in coming months.
He said they have waited to get involved because of the pending criminal case. Now the legal case is over, local lawmakers plan to sit down with judges, attorneys and schools officials to talk about to improve the statute.
"We want to come up with the best way to amend and strengthen [the current statute] to protect children," he said. "And obviously hold anybody in the future accountable for not doing the right thing."
After Poole's ruling, Montgomery was emotional as he hugged his family and friends outside the courtroom. He declined to comment.
Although the charges were dropped, Montgomery and the Hamilton County Board of Education still face two federal lawsuits filed in connection with the rape.
Montgomery's attorney, Curtis Bowe, said it has been a long year of emotion and stress for Montgomery and his family.
"It takes a toll," he told reporters.
Montgomery commended Poole's interpretation of the law, and said the youths responsible for the rape have been held accountable.
"Mr. Montgomery is not responsible," Bowe said.
Hamilton County Schools removed Montgomery from the classroom and his coaching responsibilities last year, pending this case. Bowe said he does not know if Montgomery will go back to teaching, but added that he is a great teacher and talented coach.
"And I can't imagine him doing anything different," Bowe added.
Officials in the Hamilton County District Attorney's office said they plan to ask the Tennessee Attorney General's Office to review Poole's decision. Any appeal must be filed within 30 days.
Three former Ooltewah High School players were convicted in connection with the rape that occurred during the team's trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn., to compete in a basketball tournament.
The 15-year-old victim required emergency surgery to repair his bladder and colon. According to previous court testimony, staff at the hospital, not Montgomery, contacted authorities about the attack.
In January, Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston charged Montgomery, along with the team's volunteer assistant coach, Karl Williams, and former athletic director Allard "Jesse" Nayadley.
Charges against Williams were dropped in May. And two weeks before that, Nayadley accepted pretrial diversion, meaning the case would not go to a grand jury and the charges would be erased if he completed 10 hours of community service, attended a course on reporting abuse and is well-behaved.
During the hearing Friday, Poole said there is no dispute that the attack on the teen by his teammates was horrendous.
"It's hard for us to believe what a human being can do to another human being," he said.
Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at 423-757-6592 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.