“I'm sitting there thinking, a cue stick up someone's rectum is traditional? This guy's insane.”
Testimony from a Gatlinburg, Tenn., detective on Monday, in which he said the assault of an Ooltewah High School freshman was not rape, has fueled outcry from the community and local officials.
State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, called Gatlinburg Police Department Detective Rodney Burns' comments "disturbing."
Tennessee law defines aggravated rape as:
unlawful sexual penetration of a victim by the defendant or the defendant by a victim accompanied by any of the following circumstances:
Source: Tennessee Annotated Code
"I'm sitting there thinking, a cue stick up someone's rectum is traditional? This guy's insane," said Gardenhire on Tuesday in an interview at the state Capitol. He paused before adding, "That's Latin for that guy ought to be fired."
Burns testified Monday in Hamilton County Juvenile Court in the preliminary hearing of three adults charged for failing to report abuse or suspected sexual abuse in connection with the Ooltewah case. Judge Rob Philyaw sent the charges to the Hamilton County Grand Jury after the hearing.
During Burns' testimony, he described what happened to the 15-year-old boy as "something stupid kids do." He said the boys who allegedly committed this attack received no sexual gratification from the act, and the assault wasn't sexual in nature.
Officials from the Gatlinburg Police Department did not return a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.
According to court documents, the attack on Dec. 22 resulted in the boy being rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery to repair his bladder and colon, which were ruptured by a pool cue. Three former Ooltewah students are charged in Sevier County with aggravated rape and aggravated assault.
Chattanooga police Chief Fred Fletcher also voiced concern with Burns' testimony, posting a comment on his personal Facebook page Tuesday morning. He said what allegedly happened to the teen constitutes rape.
"Not simply hazing, or bullying, or teasing, or horseplay. Rape. A violent crime," Fletcher wrote. "For anyone, including a police officer, to suggest otherwise minimizes the severity of this incident, the experience of the victim and, ultimately, makes life more dangerous for current and future victims."
Dr. Sam Bernard, a local psychologist who specializes in dealing with trauma, spoke to Chattanooga's JFK Club on Tuesday about the assault case.
He said rape is about power and control, and sexual victimization can happen in a number of unheard-of ways — including a pool cue.
Talking to club members gathered at The Chattanoogan, Bernard said, "Cooperation does not mean consent." He said the boy and his fellow freshmen teammates may have allowed some of the abuse to continue out of fear, and that does not minimize the crime against them.
Many in the audience for Monday's court proceedings voiced concern about Burns' testimony and the handling of the situation by the Hamilton County school system.
When Bernard was asked what school leaders should do moving forward, he was quick to answer.
"Transparency is important, because what was violated in this situation is trust," Bernard told the group.
He said regardless of an ongoing criminal investigation there are ways the school system and authorities can communicate progress without compromising the investigation.
Ooltewah High School basketball head coach Andre "Tank" Montgomery, assistant coach Karl Williams and the school's Athletic Director Allard "Jesse" Nayadley are charged with failing to report child abuse or suspected child abuse during the trip.
In Monday's hearing, Philyaw said he could have ruled either way in sending the three adults' case to the grand jury on the reporting issue because of legitimate arguments made by prosecutors and the men's defense attorneys. He said the statutes on mandatory reporting are unclear, and the Department of Children's Services' policy on the issue unsatisfactory.
"This isn't the first time I've had a problem with a DCS policy, and it probably won't be the last," Philyaw said.
Gardenhire said he attended Monday's nearly four-hour-long hearing as he and Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, weigh legislation to address the alleged attack.
Those changes would likely include ensuring local school systems' policies on hazing and assault match state requirements, and whether state statutes need changing and clarification as Philyaw mentioned, Gardenhire said.
Immediately after the hearing Monday, Gardenhire said, "I noticed it wasn't mentioned that much [Monday] that the policy of the [Hamilton County Board of Education is] incomplete compared to the state statute and who's responsible for that. Who's accountable for that?"
Staff writer Andy Sher contributed to this story.
Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow on twitter @kendi_and.