The Fayetteville attorney appointed as the "decision-maker" for a second Title IX investigation into alleged sexual assaults by some members of the Huntsville School District's junior high basketball team has stepped aside after a person apparently sought to influence his decision.
The Madison County Record reported Hogue has nothing else to say about his unexpected departure.
The Record and its publisher Ellen Kreth reported that Duane Glenn, a member of the school board that is currently a defendant in a federal civil lawsuit over the locker-room hazing, apparently texted Hogue on Nov. 1 in an possible attempt to sway him.
Well, it's most accurate to say someone using Glenn's phone number made the contact.
The text read: "I hope you had the evidence to make this case clear and no doubts. If the parties involved are not punished to the max the school will have major problems. The superintendent and some members have already received threatening emails. Just letting you know how serious this is. Please delete this."
Hogue received another text from the same number that told him there was no need to respond because "we will have to go with your decision whatever it might be."
A week after receiving the text, Hogue sent an email to parents of students involved in the case, confirming he'd been contacted by a person possibly trying to influence his decision.
Kreth reported that Hogue wrote, "I must inform you all that I have been directly contacted by an individual in what appears to be a possible attempt to influence my decision in this matter. My role as decision-maker requires that I remain wholly impartial." He said that although he didn't think the text affected his impartiality, he felt the parents should be aware and have an opportunity to "raise objections" before he issued a decision.
Kreth reported that some parents did respond, saying they had no objection. "A representative of one student wrote that he trusted Hogue's ability to remain impartial, but if the attempted influence was from a representative of the school going outside the established Title IX protocol, 'that such a procedure would be an irregularity and would affect our client's right to due process.'"
Hogue also contacted parents after deciding to step aside "in order to avoid even the appearance of impropriety." Hogue said his replacement would "conclude this matter" whenever the district names him or her.
The Record's story said Hogue was hired this summer to recommend punishment in the district's Title IX investigation, which had been underway for several months. Over two seasons, some players were allegedly sexually assaulted by teammates in the locker room before and after games. The assaults occurred multiple times on different nights. One player was assaulted 14 times in one season, Kreth wrote.
These latest developments come after the district provided Hogue with the final investigatory report on Aug. 24. Over recent months, parents and students have asked and answered additional questions submitted by the unnamed students involved.
District officials such as Huntsville School Board President Danny Thomas have been frustrated with how much time it's taken to render a decision, the paper reported.
"We're still in freaking limbo," Thomas told The Record. "I just asked the question yesterday, 'Where we at? Where we at? Well, it still has to go back out because they wanted more questions asked. Blah, blah, blah. So now we're in another 10 days and I'm like, 'My God.' It's pitiful. So anyway I just want it to be done and over."
Kreth reported that according to several parents who contacted The Record, "District Title IX Director Tonja McCone pulled some players involved out of class to ask them additional questions. During that line of questioning, according to parents, McCone directly named two students being investigated. The students being interviewed were required to call a parent, guardian or representative while being questioned."
This is the second Title IX investigation into the allegations of "baptizing" (placing bare genitals on the faces of teammates as they were restrained) and "bean-dipping" (placing the anus on another player's face or nose).
The school district "decision-makers" in the first Title IX investigation recommended year-long expulsions of two students who admitted to "baptizing" teammates, and 10-day out-of-school suspensions for three others alleged to have physically restrained the victimized youths. At that time, Glenn was the only board member to vote against the year-long expulsions. At the board's subsequent appeals hearings, Glenn voted to lessen the punishments from a year to a semester and throw out completely the 10-day suspensions for the other three.
With legal proceedings underway, I suspect a biblical admonition awaits: "There's nothing hidden that will not be disclosed and nothing concealed that will not be known, or brought out into the open."
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at email@example.com.