Greeson: Nightmare for Ooltewah victims continues with wrong ruling

The exterior of Ooltewah High School photographed on Sunday, January 31, 2016. (Staff photo by Maura Friedman)
The exterior of Ooltewah High School photographed on Sunday, January 31, 2016. (Staff photo by Maura Friedman)
photo Jay Greeson

The rape case from the Ooltewah High School boys' basketball team's trip last December has had tsunami-sized ripple effects.

In a lot of ways, it was the emotional lightning rod that triggered the downfall of the school superintendent. It has awoken many in our community who assumed the school system was rolling right along, hitting the occasional speed bump.

Whether they realize it or not, the three alleged victims with enough courage and family support to press charges deserve our admiration for taking the stand against them.

photo Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 2/15/16. Ooltewah High School head basketball coach Andre "Tank" Montgomery rubs his eye during a brief intermission from his preliminary hearing in Hamilton County Juvenile Court on February 15, 2016. Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston charged head coach Andre "Tank" Montgomery, assistant coach Karl Williams and Athletic Director Allard "Jesse" Nayadley with failing to report child abuse or suspected child sexual abuse in connection with the rape of an Ooltewah High School freshman by his basketball teammates Dec. 22, 2015.
In the end, the litany of mistakes made by the Ooltewah High coaching staff and administration could become civil lawsuit payments covered by checks from every Hamilton County taxpayer, but blame the adults here, not the victims. In fact, one of the victims even admitted to being afraid of going on the trip because he said the coaching staff was not going to provide proper supervision for the younger players against the hazing-minded upperclassmen.
Amid the political tangles and the school board struggles in the aftermath, it's easy to forget the lives of roughly a dozen families have been changed forever.

That, more than any other reason, is why the alleged ringleader - who, like the victims, has not been named in this newspaper under our policy for crimes involving minors - should face his day in criminal court.

Forget water-downed phrases such as "hazing" or outdated ideas such as "boys being boys" here. This is a kid who was a matter of weeks from turning 18 and making this issue moot.

Still, a collection of character witnesses was enough to convince absent-minded Judge Dwight Stokes, who quite possibly is more interested in taking the path of least resistance for his locale than the path of right for the victim, to give our pool shark a pass for all intents and purposes.

He will face his charges in juvenile court, which in all likelihood means 10 or so months of house arrest and a sealed record.

To be certain, this was not an easy decision, but how can any of us trust the collection of legal buffoons that apparently congregates in the greater Sevier County area?

photo Detective Rodney Burns of the Gatlinburg Police Department is sworn in as a witness before Judge Robert Philyaw during a preliminary hearing for the Ooltewah High School basketball coaches and the school's athletic director in Hamilton County Juvenile Court on Monday.

First, we met detective Rodney Burns, who would have a hard time connecting the clues to find a bathroom at a Chili's (and that's spotting him the neon sign and two free questions to the waitress). Burns, you may recall, was the witness for the prosecution in our county's case against Ooltewah coaches Andre "Tank" Montgomery, Karl Williams and OHS athletic director Jesse Nayadley. Burns offered a strikingly different account of the events from his filed official report. He also alluded to this entire nightmare as hijinks and a prank gone bad.

Secondly, the defendant's attorney, Jeff Stern, may have said arguably the single most stupid thing in the history of the Tennessee legal system. According to this paper's Kendi Anderson, who has done outstanding work covering this story, Stern said the hazing was "just meant to be a welcoming of sorts." Say what? These kids locked their bedroom doors during the trip because they were scared of the attackers, who instituted something called "freshmen racks" after joining the basketball team after football season. "A welcoming of sorts," huh? Well, Mr. Stern, please be sure to never invite us over if that's your idea of a welcoming of any sort.

Then there's Judge Stokes, who offered a patronizing plea to the 15-year-old victims that they can rebound from this. Imagine if that had been three females sitting there who had been raped by a 17-year-old boy, and the judge offers that kind of disingenuous psycho-babble? Hey, judge, feel free to offer a moral indignation or three, will you?

Never mind the fact there were four alleged victims at the pool-cue-holding hand of this attacker, and at least three of them testified Tuesday. Never mind the key victim, who was hurt to the point of needing surgery, was the last among them. That shows these acts were premeditated and serial in nature.

It's relatively meaningless after the fact he cooperated with authorities in the grand scheme of this thing. The repeated acts in the moment speak way louder than the cooperation or contrition after the fact. Heck, who knows what to believe in the grand scheme of things when Detective Burns speaks anyway. (Side note: Here's a heartfelt thank you to Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston for doing what he can to expose the fraud that is Detective Burns.)

Understandably, some of the family members of the victims were upset by this ruling and believe the accused got a very lenient decision.

The victims were dumbfounded. They have done nothing wrong here, and no one will do the right thing by them. Some of the family members even protested that this is why victims and witnesses are reluctant to testify. It's a point that is hard to debate today after the legal system did not come to the aid of these victims.

We have all shared views and vitriol about a lot of this, and how it affects the school system as a whole. These are the most real and raw court scenes so far of how bad this nightmare truly is for the victims.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfree His "Right to the Point" column runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays on A2.

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