Grundy County, Tenn., school records requested via subpoena have still not been turned over, more than a month after the deadline.
In late October 2017, the Grundy County Sheriff's Office served a subpoena to Director of Schools Jessie Kinsey looking for "any and all information regarding the investigation of incidents of hazing, assault and/or sexual assault related to Grundy County students in the last five years."
The subpoena, signed for by a juvenile court clerk, was served on Oct. 25, 2017, weeks after reports of an attempted aggravated rape at Grundy County High School on Oct. 11, 2017.
Allegations that the school has a history of hazing and sexual abuse quickly began to spread, and tensions grew among people in the community and school officials.
"All this is a fact-finding attempt just to either confirm or disavow those rumors ... ," Grundy County Sheriff Clint Shrum said in October.
The records were to be turned over within 30 days, but that did not happen. Kinsey said in late November that the schools' search "yielded nothing that hadn't already been reported to [the sheriff's] office."
At the time, Shrum said the school board attorney and the county attorney would have to meet first to make sure student privacy laws were complied with before Kinsey could respond to the subpoena. But the attorneys have not yet met or discussed the subpoena.
A letter of memorandum was sent to county attorney Bill Rieder from school board attorney Chuck Cagle on behalf of the Grundy County Board of Education on Nov. 9, explaining why the district would not be turning over any records.
The letter, provided to the Times Free Press, argues that the sheriff began the process for obtaining evidence "in order to determine whether a criminal offense has been or is being committed" rather than "because of an existing belief." It also argues that student records are confidential and cannot be disclosed without a specific order of the court (a court clerk signed the subpoena) or a written release from a parent or guardian.
The letter closes with a request for the sheriff to "cease and desist from seeking any and all student records related to discipline in the Grundy County schools."
In another letter provided to the Times Free Press, Rieder details a number of "factual inaccuracies" in Cagle's memorandum.
"Parental consent is not required when the records are disclosed in compliance with a judicial order or a lawfully issued subpoena," the letter reads. And while student records are confidential under state law, they are subject to disclosure pursuant to "due legal process" — a subpoena is a legal process.
The subpoena was requested by 12th Judicial District Attorney General Mike Taylor's office on behalf of the sheriff's office, Shrum said, which is why any decision to withdraw, modify or enforce it lies solely with the district attorney general.
On Wednesday, Shrum said that was where the issue stands — waiting for a decision from both Rieder and Taylor's office.
Taylor, however, has said his office is not involved in the fact-finding investigation. Historical information would not help the prosecution against the accused high school students, he said, as it would not be admissible in court unless it applied directly to those involved.
That case, involving five students who are accused of attempting to rape their freshman teammate with the metal handle of a dust mop, has been sealed from the public by Judge Tim Brock, of Coffee County. He placed a non-disclosure order on the case at the boys' last known court appearance on Nov. 15, 2017, preventing anyone from discussing any details.
The Times Free Press was not able to obtain a copy of the nondisclosure order to verify its existence, as it is also part of the sealed case, Barbara Peck, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts, said in response to an open records request.
As of latest reports before the non-disclosure order, the boys are not attending regular classes but are still enrolled at the high school. They were placed on house arrest and assigned "homebound education" at their first court appearance in October.
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