Three central Arkansas high school baseball players accused in a hazing case have been cleared of child maltreatment accusations, their attorney said.
John Wesley Hall said he has seen a copy of letters sent by Arkansas State Police that state the agency's Crimes Against Children Division investigation found the allegations lacked a "preponderance of evidence" and were unsubstantiated. As a result, the accused Bauxite players will not have their names placed in the Child Maltreatment Central Registry, Hall said.
State police spokeswoman Liz Chapman said she could not confirm the authenticity of the letters nor comment on cases investigated by the Crimes Against Children Division.
The boys could still face punishment if Polk County Prosecuting Attorney Andy Riner decides to press criminal charges. Riner said in a phone interview Wednesday that the case is still under review.
However, Hall thinks state police's decision strongly suggests the prosecuting attorney will choose not to go forward with the case.
"The Crimes Against Children Division has a lower standard of proof," he said. "They have the same info that the cops have, and they're not even going to try to put them on the child maltreatment registry. The prosecutor has a higher burden to convict of a crime. But as Yogi Berra said, 'It’s not over until it's over.'"
The allegations stem from an incident that occurred March 2 after a baseball game in Mena. Five or six students were accused of sexually abusing freshman players on the bus ride home from the game, Hall said, adding that it was nothing more than the team's usual "roughhousing." The students have denied the claims from the beginning.
Hall said at least one of the students he represents will not return to Bauxite High School in the fall. The attorney said he plans to appeal the district's decision to expel the students, which would mean eventually filing a lawsuit against the district.
In April, the school board expelled three of the high schoolers for the remainder of the 2017-18 school year for hazing and sexual assault and placed two coaches — Michael Mattox and Steven Tew — on paid administrative leave. A subsequent investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing by the coaches.
A spokeswoman for the Bauxite School District previously said that Tew has accepted a position at Carlisle High School as head baseball and assistant football coach.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Rachel Herzog contributed to this report.