Today's Paper Latest Elections Sports Core Values Weather Newsletters Obits Puzzles Archive Story ideas iPad
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: No charges filed

by Mike Masterson | April 26, 2022 at 4:26 a.m.


After a year of uproar over the alleged sexual abuse of some Huntsville junior high basketball players by fellow students, it turns out none of the adult mandated reporters will be charged for failing to immediately contact the state's Child Abuse Hotline.

That was the decision by Madison County Sheriff's Capt. Russell Alberts, supported by Washington County Prosecutor Matt Durrett.

Mandated reporters at Arkansas schools are required by law to immediately report specific instances of assault, sexual abuse and other suspected mistreatment. Yet in this instance, the authorities decided the law didn't apply because it involved pupil-on-pupil abuse rather than an adult or authority figure, and there didn't appear to be sexual gratification involved.

Consequently, Alberts wrote in his report, "there was not a requirement to report the incident to the Arkansas Child Abuse hotline."

The misdeeds certainly involved students. As for gratification, I'd be the least qualified to understand what hormonally charged thoughts or gratification might have been involved.

In The Madison County Record, award-winning publisher Ellen Kreth wrote, "'Baptisms' occurred when several players physically restrained teammates while other players undressed and placed their bare genitals in or on the restrained players' faces, foreheads or in their hair. Players were also 'bean-dipped,' which occurred when players placed their rectum on another player's face or nose.

"Multiple players were 'baptized' or 'bean-dipped' multiple times. One player whose parent is suing the district alleges her child was 'baptized' or 'bean-dipped' 14 times in one season."

And yet, the reporting law apparently doesn't require mandated reporters to notify the hotline when they learn damaging physical and mental abuses are occurring against students?

Kreth told me the Madison County sheriff's office investigation was moving "slowly" until stories began appearing in The Record, yet wound up holding no mandated reporter accountable.

Kreth quoted from Captain Alberts' report: "Incident was brought to attention of [High School Principal] Roxanne Enix on 9 February 2021, who would have been the first mandated reporter having knowledge of the incident."

Kreth wrote: "Enix said she learned the night of Feb. 9 that students on the junior high basketball team had been 'baptizing' or 'bean-dipping' teammates before and after ballgames for two years."

Two years? As a parent of such a victim (or a victim yourself), would you have any doubt you were being mentally and physically abused at school? Would the abuse be any different if the abuser were a student or a teacher?

"A criminal complaint was filed on Oct. 22, 2021, against former junior high school basketball coach Kaleb Houston, Superintendent Audra Kimball, Athletic Director Tom McCollough, and Enix for failure to report, alleging sexual-abuse incidents took place between late October 2020 through February 2021, Kreth wrote.

"Under Arkansas law, mandated reporters, which include the four administrators named in the criminal complaint, are required to notify the hotline if they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been subjected to child maltreatment. Failure to report can be a Class A misdemeanor."

But apparently it's not required unless the abuse is defined strictly as adults abusing students.

A formal Title IX investigation began Feb. 26, 2021. "According to Alberts' incident report," Kreth wrote, 'Six Arkansas Child Abuse Hotlines were reported on 3/2/2021, all of which were screened out.' Multiple parents of students involved have told The Record they called the hotline when they were made aware of the allegations in a Title IX report sent from the district to them.

"Kimball said she did not recall the exact date she called the hotline, but 'I knew it had been reported multiple times. And so I did it again just to make sure something wasn't missed.'"

Kimball told Kreth she waited because "at that point, we didn't even know if this was accurate information. ... When I spoke to our attorney, that was one of the things I asked, 'Do you think this should [be] reported?' ... His exact words were, 'I think you have to know what you're dealing with first.'"

Kreth wrote: "Kimball said she calls the hotline when the abuse concerns 'adult to child and so in this particular situation ... it is child to child and they're the same age. So I think that's why our minds didn't go to the hotline because typically that's child abuse from an adult.'"

Fort Smith Attorney Joey McCutchen, who filed the criminal case on behalf of a parent, has been forbidden by the court from discussing the case, although I can imagine what he thinks of this unexpected development.

The bottom line of consequences is the two older students who admitted bean-dipping and baptizing had their initial punishment lessened from one year's suspension to a semester.

"We know ... other students were involved but none of them have suffered any consequences," Kreth told me. "No administrator was disciplined or held accountable ... . No charges have been filed and most importantly to note: No apology or statement by the district or its attorneys have been issued."


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 mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.


Print Headline: No charges filed

ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsor Content

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT