Judge has not issued an official 'gag order' in Ooltewah rape case

Hamilton County School Superintendent Rick Smith enters an overflowing school board meeting room Wednesday night before a short public meeting consisting only of a prepared statement read by Dr. Jonathan Welch, seated background left.

A court official in Sevier County, Tenn., said there has not been an official gag order filed preventing Hamilton County school employees or school board members from discussing the alleged assault of an Ooltewah High School freshman by three of his basketball teammates.

The court official said Thursday morning that the judge has not told her to release an order preventing people from discussing the case, and said if an order is released, it's her understanding it will only prevent defendants in the case from talking.

On Wednesday night, Scott Bennett, the attorney for the Hamilton County Board of Education, said he advised the board in a private executive session not to discuss the case. He said any public comment could hurt the ongoing criminal investigations in both Sevier and Hamilton counties.

photo Contributed photo. Scott Bennett, the board attorney for Hamilton, Bradley and other school systems.

Bennett said he was told by the assistant district attorney in Sevier County that the judge ordered people not to talk about this case.

Bennett's recommendation influenced school board members to hold a public meeting lasting less than four minutes. Board Chairman Jonathan Welch was the only person to speak during the meeting, as he read a prepared statement.

More than 100 people gathered Wednesday night at the meeting expecting answers about the assault of a freshman that happened more than two weeks ago and received none.

Bennett clarified Thursday that he has not spoken with the judge, but only law enforcement in Sevier County regarding people not being allowed to discuss the case, and he has not seen an official order from the judge.

"Until I hear otherwise from the ADA, I have to assume that the investigation is not complete and the judge has instructed everybody connected with this case not to say anything," Bennett said.

Regardless of who is restricted from talking in the judge's order, Bennett said he will still advise the school board to honor the instructions of law enforcement and not discuss the case.

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or423-757-6592. Follow on twitter @kendi_and.

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