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some text Ashley Pritchett

FORT OGLETHORPE, Ga. — A neighbor called 911 one night in January to report a burglary on Butterfly Lane Drive. She saw a boy knock out the screen of the back window, slip through and run away, holding a backpack.

During the call, the neighbor found the woman who lived in the apartment, standing outside. The woman said no crime occurred. But the dispatcher asked to speak with her.

"It is my apartment and there's no need for officers to come here," said Ashley Pritchett, who had recently resigned from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. "Everything is fine. I'm the only one that's here."

"OK," the dispatcher said. "Why was there someone jumping out the window?"

"Because there was another somebody that was irate at my front door," Pritchett said. "But everybody's gone and the situation is under control. No one's being harmed. No one's in trouble. Everything's good."

The irate somebody at her front door? Pritchett's estranged husband.

When officers arrived, they found a boy matching the caller's description nearby. He was a Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School student. He had gotten to know Pritchett that fall, when he played on the football team and she coached the cheerleaders.

A week later, Pritchett's husband showed up at the Fort Oglethorpe Police Department to report that his wife was having an affair with the boy. He said it extended back to when she taught at the school. The boy later told investigators about the affair too, according to a search warrant affidavit.

Fort Oglethorpe police charged Pritchett with sexual assault by persons with supervisory or disciplinary authority on Feb. 1.

But months before her arrest, school officials received a tip about Pritchett and the boy. According to Pritchett's personnel file, a female student told Principal Chance Nix that she saw the boy wrap his arms around Pritchett as she sat at her desk. She said Pritchett turned and kissed him on the cheek.

Catoosa County Schools Director of Human Resources Doug Cline, system social worker Dale Wallace and Nix interviewed the boy later that day. He denied the kiss happened and denied having an inappropriate relationship with Pritchett.

Nix then called the Division of Family and Children's Services to forward the report. DFCS dropped the investigation four hours later, according to the school's file.

Pritchett denied the girl's account during a meeting with Nix and a school system HR director on Nov. 12. She said she was never even alone with any students on the day in question. She said she didn't know why the girl would make up the story.

Nix and the HR director told Pritchett to stop hugging students, to not let them hang out near her desk and to keep students out of her classroom unless they were assigned to her. She then returned to work.

Two months passed. Pritchett resigned amid a second school investigation.

Still, no criminal inquiry began until Jan. 22, at the behest of Pritchett's husband. Going back to the original report in November, it's not clear why DFCS dropped the case so quickly. Their records are not open to the public, and an agency spokesman said he can't discuss specific cases.

Nix, meanwhile, pointed out that he fulfilled his legal obligation as a mandated reporter. During an interview with the Times Free Press, he said he doesn't report allegations of child abuse to the police because that's not what the law requires: He is supposed to go to DFCS. Asked if he was taken aback when DFCS quickly closed the case, he wasn't sure.

"I don't know if I'd be surprised or not," he said. "I'm going to tell you we have reported some things that are much more serious than this. You do what you want with that. [DFCS doesn't] always take it."

A second school complaint

Pritchett began as a math teacher at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School in the 2017-18 school year. She became the football cheerleading coach that fall. Two parents said they quickly developed problems. One parent said Pritchett danced inappropriately, let boys watch the girls practice and didn't discipline cheerleaders who sent her videos of themselves drinking alcohol.

"She was acting like a child herself," one parent said.

Nix said he had not heard these complaints.

On Dec. 18, about a month after the first investigation into Pritchett, Nix and an HR director met with Kendall Touchstone, the school's basketball cheerleading coach. Touchstone was concerned about an inappropriate relationship between Pritchett and a cheerleader.

The allegations were not sexual in nature, but Pritchett was accused of letting the cheerleader drive her car, even though the girl didn't have a license. Pritchett and the girl both denied this allegation, and Nix considered it unproven.

But during the interview, Touchstone also brought up the boy. She said cheerleaders told their parents Pritchett slept with the boy. She said students told her the boy bragged, "I have a girlfriend, and you will be surprised who it is when I graduate."

After Nix met with Pritchett over Touchstone's concerns, Pritchett resigned the next day. But Nix did not report Touchstone's statements to DFCS.

He does not believe he needed to since he filed a report a month earlier. He felt the evidence from the girl in November was stronger than Touchstone's "third-person hearsay." He said rumors about the boy and Pritchett had spread throughout the school by mid-December.

"The kids are talking about it, OK?" he said. "They had been talking about it. They never quit talking about it. You know how many times I had been asked about that from [November] to [December]? All the time. You know why? Because people are talking about it because it's news. It's going around the school."

The criminal report

Pritchett's husband told the police in January that he found a pretty clear clue she was cheating on him: used condoms in the master bathroom trashcan. Her husband had a vasectomy. When he confronted her, according to a search warrant affidavit, he said she confessed to having sex with the boy.

During a Jan. 25 interview, the boy told police his sexual relationship with Pritchett lasted months, dating back to her time as a teacher. He said they texted each other nude pictures, and he took videos of them having sex.

Investigators have considered charging Pritchett with computer or electronic pornography and child exploitation, according to the affidavit. They seized the boy's iPhone 7, as well as Pritchett's iPhone 8 and HP laptop. They are waiting for data from Snapchat, which may still have pictures and videos that are deleted off a phone.

Pritchett's previous phone number was out of service when a reporter tried to reach her last week. Her attorney, Larry Stagg, said, "She denies any criminal activity."

Asked if she denies having sex with the boy, he said, "I don't want to say that. I don't want to go that far into the details. It is an ongoing case."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.

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