GATLINBURG - An investigation into the December 2015 rape of a male Ooltewah High School basketball player accuses the team’s coach and his wife of trying to cover up the incident, and blames the attack on a lack of adult supervision and a culture of assault, hazing and bullying, according to a 26-page report released Thursday.
The investigation by the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office and the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office also revealed for the first time that four – not just one – freshmen were assaulted during the three-day trip to a basketball tournament in Gatlinburg.
“From the moment the basketball coaches drove the team out of town without (school) Board approval, the system failed,” the report, put together by District Attorney General Neal Pinkston, stated.
“The lackadaisical mindset is not limited to OHS leadership,” he added, also faulting the school district for its failure to properly respond in the hours and days following the incident.
Pinkston listed a number of recommendations for the district to implement, including strengthening policies and penalties, more mandatory reporter training and creating a “crisis plan” for officials to follow.
Further, he said the school district needs to provide better support for children across the system, address a systemic lack of accountability and partner with the Children’s Advocacy Center.
In a letter to the Hamilton County Board of Education, Pinkston said the report was delayed “due almost entirely to the continual stream of complaints regarding HCDE matters….”
He noted that the report covers findings connected to the four rapes, but does not address the actual act since those crimes were prosecuted in Sevier County, where the attacks occurred.
The three former high school players were eventually charged with rape. Athletic Director Allard Nayadley, as well as, former Ooltewah basketball coaches Andre Montgomery and assistant coach Karl Williams were charged in Hamilton County with failing to report a rape.
The three players were found guilty, but two were convicted on reduced charges. Montgomery pleaded not guilty. Nayadley accepted pre-trial diversion. Charges were dropped against Williams.
Three upperclassmen during the trip repeatedly assaulted the team’s four freshmen players by isolating each of them, beating them with pool cues and using the sticks to rape each of them, the report found.
One of the players was critically injured and required emergency surgery to his damaged colon and bladder.
The attacks were not made public until the following week, when the former step-father of the physically injured teen contacted media.
Most damning, the report says the team’s coach – Andre Montgomery – and his wife “attempted to cover up the crimes, failed to preserve evidence and told players to not discuss the incident with their parents.”
The report said the coach’s wife, who is not named, threw out the injured male’s soiled clothing and cleaned the area where the attack happened “essentially erasing evidence of the crime.”
Players interviewed by the Hamilton County authorities told investigators the coach ordered them to keep quiet and not discuss what happened.
In addition, the report says Montgomery “attempted to grossly minimize the situation” by downplaying the student’s injuries to his mother.
The report also noted that the Hamilton County School Board denied the school's request to travel to the tournament in the first place, but the team traveled to Gatlinburg anyway.
The report faulted the coaches, assistant principal and superintendent for failing to protect the players, and then later help them after the attack.
“There is a glaring lack of training by HCDE regarding the duty to report suspected or actual child abuse and child sexual assault,” the report said.
Nayadley told investigators he had “no idea” how to properly report such an incident, and did not recall attending any training session regarding mandatory reporting, the report said.
“We find this unacceptable for anyone employed by HCDE, much less someone who has spent his entire career as a coach and administrator within Hamilton County schools,” the report said.
The report also said former Superintendent Rick Smith “did not accurately convey the horror of the assaults or the serious nature of the crisis HCDE was facing.”
The report added: “There is no indication Superintendent Smith took his duty to manage the crisis seriously. It is unclear why he did not immediately take action to learn the details of the attacks or take the lead in HCDE’s response to the attacks.”
‘CLIMATE AT OHS’
The report documents a culture of rape.
The main suspect in the Gatlinburg attacks testified under oath in Sevier County Juvenile Court that a similar assault happened to him when he was a freshman at a basketball tournament in Hilton Head, S.C., four years prior, the report said.
A former student told investigators “the abusive behavior toward freshmen (is) an embedded part of the team’s culture.”
The report said those interviewed told investigators that such hazing often involved turning off the lights in a locker room, grabbing a player and punching him from the neck down – as a rite of passage.
One former student, according to the report, suggested the coaches were “fully aware of what was going on and in some ways encouraged what was happening.”
Further, the report goes on to document incidents at a number of schools within the Hamilton County School District. Many of them don’t rise to the level of criminal activity, but they “illustrate a general lack of common sense and compassion,” the report said.
For example, an eighth grade teacher at Orchard Knob Middle School became seriously ill after a student dropped pills into his water bottle while he wasn’t looking, the report said.
“As of this writing, the Central Office has refused to pay for any of his emergency medical expenses, despite this happening while he was on the job for HCDE,” the report said.
The report found a lack of accountability across the system.
“Almost none of the incidents at other schools that have been reported to us have been made public,” the report said. “We are disturbed by the degree to which the school system has withheld information from its own Board and from parents and taxpayers.”
Each of the concerns that were reported to the District Attorney’s office should have been resolved by HCDE leaders without the need for Pinkston’s office to intervene, the report said.
“It should not have taken the rape of a freshman basketball player to convince HCDE to take a more proactive approach against bullying,” the report said.
(© 2016 WBIR)