Charges dismissed against Ooltewah High School coach, lawmakers considering strengthening child abuse reporting laws
Two independent investigations say a culture of hazing and abuse existed before the 2015 rape of an Ooltewah High School freshman by three of his basketball teammates, but three former school employees deny the findings, according to federal court documents filed late last week.
In response to a second federal lawsuit filed against them, former Ooltewah head boys' basketball coach Andre "Tank" Montgomery, former principal Jim Jarvis and former athletic director Allard "Jesse" Nayadley claim they should not be held responsible for the attack that happened during the basketball team's trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn.
"These Defendants deny any systemic hazing and abuse on the Ooltewah boy's basketball team," the response claims.
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The lawsuit, filed in December, says Hamilton County Schools, the former Ooltewah employees and Marsha Drake, who served as the district's Title IX coordinator at the time of the rape, allowed a culture of bullying and sexual assault to fester at the school, leaving students unprotected.
A 15-year-old was raped so severely during the trip that he required emergency surgery. He and his family also filed a federal lawsuit in September.
The second lawsuit was filed by the family of a former Ooltewah High School basketball player, who authorities say was sexually assaulted by older players during the trip. Before the trip, the boy endured months of harassment and beatings by older teammates, which was a ritual on the team, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit cites local attorney Courtney Bullard's seven-month investigation into the culture of the school's athletic programs, commissioned by the Hamilton County school board months after the rape.
Bullard interviewed 40 parents, teachers, students and administrators, including 15 basketball players, and determined that a culture of hazing and bullying existed on the team during the basketball season. She said many basketball players talked about "racking in," which was when upperclassmen turned off the lights in the locker room and punched freshman with their fists from the neck down, according to the report.
Bullard concluded that Montgomery likely knew about the "excessive horseplay" because his office was adjacent to the boys' locker room where the "racking in" took place, and it's unlikely he didn't hear the boys making noise in the locker room.
But Montgomery, Jarvis and Nayadley said that's not true.
"These Defendants deny that Ms. Bullard's report is either accurate in all respects as it relates to them or can subject them to liability under the state or federal law," the response claims.
Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston also conducted an investigation after the rape and determined that Hamilton County Schools failed to address reports of abuse, calling the district's current accountability system "a failure."
Hamilton County Schools previously responded to the second federal lawsuit, claiming that only the three boys convicted in connection with the rape should be held responsible for what happened. If anyone should have been aware the boys were going to commit the attack, it would have been their parents, the response states. The Hamilton County school board filed a nearly identical response to the first federal lawsuit.
Arthur Knight, a Knoxville attorney, is representing the former Ooltewah employees in both federal lawsuits, and attorney Charles Purcell, from Jackson, Tenn., is defending the school district and Drake.
The separate representation and responses could signal that both the board and the individuals named in the lawsuit will attempt to shift responsibility to the other in future court proceedings, though that has yet to occur in the court documents filed.
The former Ooltewah employees also claim that they "acted under the color of the law."
Pinkston filed charges of failing to reporting child sexual abuse against Montgomery and Nayadley early last year because both men were in Gatlinburg at the time of the rape and didn't contact authorities.
Nayadley accepted pretrial diversion, meaning the case did not go to a grand jury and the charges were erased after he completed 10 hours of community service and attended a course on reporting abuse.
Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole dismissed charges against Montgomery in December. Poole said that despite a moral obligation to report abuse, his interpretation of the state's law imposes a legal obligation to report only for children aged 13 to 17 and when the crimes are committed by household members.
Since the charges involved the victim's teammates, Poole said, Montgomery was not legally obliged to report the abuse.
The muddiness of the statute prompted state lawmakers to begin drafting legislation that would require adults to report all child abuse cases, clarifying where and how abuse should be reported.
Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at email@example.com or 423-757-6592. Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.