McMinn County private school principal, secretary charged in sex with minors case

McMinn County Sheriff's Office / Brittany Branham, 28, of Athens, Tenn. and Jason L. Kennedy, 46, of Athens, Tenn.
McMinn County Sheriff's Office / Brittany Branham, 28, of Athens, Tenn. and Jason L. Kennedy, 46, of Athens, Tenn.

The principal and school secretary at a private school in McMinn County, Tennessee, have been arrested on multiple charges related to sexual assault allegations involving five underage victims in an ongoing investigation launched last summer, the Sheriff's Office said.

Following the initial probe in August, Jason L. Kennedy, 46, of County Road 172, Athens, was charged with two counts of sexual assault by an authority figure and one count of solicitation of a minor, according to officials.

At the same time last year, Brittany Branham, 28, of the same address, was charged with one count of solicitation of a minor. Kennedy was the Liberty Christian School's principal, and Branham was the school's secretary and home school coordinator, according to McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy.

"As the investigation has continued, four additional victims have been identified," Guy said Monday in an emailed statement. "These latest victims involve incidents dating as far back as 1996. Detectives presented these new cases to the McMinn County grand jury this week, which returned additional criminal indictments on Kennedy and Branham. Of the total five victims, one was unrelated to Liberty Christian Academy, and four were students at Liberty Christian Academy."

(READ MORE: Trial date set for McMinn woman in 43-count sex case involving 18 underage boys)

On Tuesday, the grand jury issued indictments charging Kennedy with solicitation of a minor to observe sexual conduct, aggravated sexual battery, two counts of continual sexual abuse of a child, four counts of sexual battery by an authority figure, stemming from the abuse of four new alleged victims, Guy said. Branham was additionally charged with sexual exploitation of a minor related to the initial victim in the August probe, he said.

A man who answered the school's phone Monday but wouldn't identify himself declined comment on the arrests and said the school is still open.

"It's running good," the man said.

He refused to give any other details about the school, in the Riceville community.

(READ MORE: Tennessee high school teacher arrested for sex with student)

Kennedy and Branham were booked into the McMinn County Jail on Tuesday, according to authorities and jail records. Kennedy is being held on a $400,000 bond while Branham made bond stipulations and was released after she was booked on her charges.

The investigation is continuing, the sheriff said.

Guy urged any other victims to reach out to Detective Doug Reed at the Sheriff's Office at 423-745-5620 or dreed@mcminncountytn.gov.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.

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