Updated at 8:44 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26, 2019.
A federal judge Tuesday dismissed several claims brought by three Ooltewah High School teachers who believed they were treated unfairly in the aftermath of a 2015 rape case in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
In a 35-page order, U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher Steger sided with several motions to dismiss that Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston, the Tennessee Department of Children's Services, the Hamilton County Department of Education and former superintendent Rick Smith filed after being sued in 2017 by three former Ooltewah High School employees.
Among other things, Steger ruled the employees provided no proof that Pinkston acted "in concert" with other county and state officials to penalize the men. Steger also said some of the claims would be better dealt with in a state court, should the teachers want to refile their claims.
Their attorney, Curtis Bowe, did not return a call for comment Tuesday about whether the teachers would refile anything in state court.
Former Ooltewah High School Principal Jim Jarvis, the school's former athletic director Allard "Jesse" Nayadley and former head basketball coach Andre "Tank" Montgomery first filed a 33-page federal lawsuit in June 2017, claiming the various school, county and state officials violated their constitutional rights by "illegally disseminating false facts" and stripping the men of the "opportunity to defend their employment against the untrue and malicious allegations" stemming from the December 2015 rape, attempted rape and assault of four Ooltewah students during a trip to a basketball tournament.
As a result of false information, Montgomery and Nayadley were each suspended and transferred, which amounted to termination, their lawsuit stated, and Jarvis was demoted and transferred to be an assistant principal at East Hamilton Middle/High but never took the position. The lawsuit argues the men's employment should never have been impacted. The men said they followed the district's guidelines and state law when handling the December 2015 incident, and Montgomery called one of the injured minors' family members as the incident unfolded at a hospital.
Though prosecutors in Sevier County believed the coaches committed no wrongdoing, the lawsuit stated, Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston brought criminal charges outside of his jurisdiction. Nayadley and Montgomery were charged with failure to report child sexual abuse, but their charges were either dismissed or diverted, in part because of the confusing wording in the criminal penal code.
In his order, Steger said Pinkston interpreted the penal code as best he could, and that a judge ultimately disagreed with him. In doing so, he was not acting outside the scope of his duties as a prosecutor, Steger said.
Other people disagreed about the teachers being victims: Two victims who sued the school district and their former coaches said Montgomery and Nayadley allowed a culture of bullying and hazing to fester within some of Ooltewah's athletic programs. An independent investigator hired by the district also found that such a culture existed after interviewing 40 students, parents, teachers and others.
The minor students' cases settled in 2018 in Chattanooga's U.S. District Court under confidential terms. The district and its attorney, Scott Bennett, have declined to release the settlement amounts or say how much was covered by the district's insurance carrier.
Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, has since filed a bill related to whether out-of-court monetary settlements made by Hamilton County Schools' insurer must be disclosed to the public under the state's open government laws. It's scheduled to come up next week in the legislature.
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at email@example.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.