SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — One Tennessee high school basketball player was found guilty of aggravated rape and two others were found guilty of aggravated assault against a freshman teammate, a person familiar with the juvenile court case said Tuesday.
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the hearing Tuesday involving the Ooltewah High School students was closed to the public and no ruling was publicly announced immediately afterward. The defendants’ names haven’t been released because they were in juvenile court.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press first reported the verdicts.
The case arose Dec. 22 while the team from the Chattanooga area was playing in a tournament about 150 miles away in the resort town of Gatlinburg. Police in Gatlinburg said three Ooltewah players assaulted a freshman teammate with a pool cue.
Gatlinburg police charged three players with the rape of one teammate, though the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office has indicated four freshman players were assaulted during that trip. Ooltewah High School is in Hamilton County, while Gatlinburg is part of Sevier County.
“Today was an incredibly sad day for all the young men involved here,” said Eddie Schmidt, a lawyer representing a victim’s family in this case. Based on testimony in the case, he said, “we can only conclude that the coaches involved in this case were either clueless as to what was going on or didn’t give a darn about what was going on or implicitly encouraged what was going on.
Schmidt also said the family he represents plans to sue the Hamilton County Board of Education in federal court.
“These events had been building not just for a couple of weeks, not just for a couple of months, but for years,” Schmidt said. “This was almost predictable, what happened.”
Hamilton County school officials didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
An investigation commissioned by Hamilton County officials showed Ooltewah’s basketball team had a “culture of hazing and bullying” even before the Dec. 22 incident. But the investigation also said there was “no evidence” that Hamilton County school officials or Ooltewah High administrators knew or should have known such an incident would occur.
The investigation results were released Aug. 19.
The investigation by attorney Courtney Bullard showed that nine Ooltewah players said the team participated in an activity they called “racking in” before the Gatlinburg incident. They said upperclassmen would turn out the lights in the locker room, grab a freshman and punch him from the neck down, without the intent to cause injury.
Sevier County Judge Dwight Stokes rejected prosecutors’ attempts in March to have one defendant transferred to adult court.
Sevier County Juvenile Court Judge Jeffrey Rader ruled Tuesday that the hearing for the three players would be closed “except to those persons having a direct interest in the case.”
Rader also mentioned in his ruling that Gatlinburg police detective Rodney Burns “was unable to testify” because of the aggravated perjury charges he faces in Hamilton County regarding the case.
According to an indictment filed against Burns in May, the detective testified there were no “screams of anguish” during the incident, even though his written reports noted that witnesses said they could hear the victim yelling. The indictment also says there was a discrepancy in Burns’ testimony about whether he tried to call other officials and report the case.
Burns’ perjury case involves his testimony at a Feb. 15 preliminary hearing in Hamilton County for Ooltewah High officials Andre Montgomery, Karl Williams and Allard Nayadley, who faced charges of failing to report suspected child sex abuse to the proper authorities.
Montgomery was the Ooltewah head coach, Williams the assistant coach and Nayadley an assistant principal at the time. The charges against Williams have since been dropped.
Montgomery was indicted in May on four counts of failing to report child sexual abuse.
Nayadley entered a pre-trial diversion program in May. If he complies with terms of that program, which include performing community service and taking a class on mandatory reporting, the charges can be removed from his record. He also recently announced he was resigning.
Rick Smith, who was the Hamilton County schools superintendent at the time of the incident, announced in March that he would retire July 1 and take leave effective immediately.