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Prosecutor issues summons to 2 former Huntsville school officials, says they failed to report locker-room abuse allegations

They face charges in failure to report Huntsville hazing by Bill Bowden | September 29, 2022 at 6:50 a.m.
A sign labeling it as the "Crossroads of the Ozarks," welcomes visitors to Huntsville in Madison County. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette FILE PHOTO)

A former Huntsville school superintendent and former basketball coach have been summoned to appear in Madison County District Court to face misdemeanor charges accusing them of failing to immediately call the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline when they heard allegations of sexual abuse among boys on the junior high school basketball team.

Prosecuting Attorney Matt Durrett said he issued the summonses Tuesday for Audra Kimball, the former superintendent, and Kaleb Houston, the former basketball coach. Both have resigned from those jobs, but Kimball is still employed by the Huntsville School District as director of personnel and program compliance.

Kimball has been summoned to appear in court Oct. 6, and Houston's court date will be Nov. 3, said Durrett.

He said official charges will be filed later.

"The summons (at least in this case) is an acknowledgment of the charge and the court date," Durrett said in an email. "I did that in lieu of a criminal citation. It has the same effect."

Kimball and Houston were each summoned under Arkansas Code Annotated § 12-18-201, "Failure to notify by a mandated reporter in the first degree."

Durrett said there are still potential charges against other officials.

In mid-April, Durrett said he wasn't going to file charges because the requirements of the mandated reporter statute, Arkansas Code Annotated § 12-18-402, didn't apply in this case.

"A mandated reporter is required to file a hotline report when there is reasonable cause to believe that a child has been subjected to child maltreatment," Durrett said in an email in April. "'Child maltreatment' is defined as abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, sexual exploitation, or abandonment. Each of those terms is defined in [Arkansas Code Annotated] § 12-18-103. None of the statutory definitions fit the actions that were reported to school officials. Therefore, there was no legal requirement to file a hotline report.

"Obviously, the prudent thing to do is to err on the side of caution and file a report. However, there was no legal requirement to do so. As such, we did not have a legal basis for filing charges."

Durrett said he didn't have all the information in April.

"I was under the belief that it was just exposure," he said in an email Wednesday.

But the allegations went beyond exposure to include physical contact.

The definition of "sexual abuse" under Arkansas Code Annotated § 12-18-103(20) includes "deviate sexual activity, or sexual contact by forcible compulsion" to a person under the age of 18, regardless of the age of the perpetrator.

By late April, after getting backlash over his decision not to file charges, and concerns about whether there was a loophole in the law, Durrett told the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, "We're in the process of gathering additional information that's out there. There were holes in the investigation that I should have looked at and seen that they were followed up on before making a decision."

"Had I spoken to some of the families beforehand, I would have gotten more information," Durrett said in Wednesday's email. "That was my error, which is why I agreed to reconsider my decision."

According to a "Title IX Sexual Harassment Determination of Responsibility" report completed after the school district's internal investigation, the accused players had placed their "genitals in the faces" of several eighth- and ninth-grade boys who were being restrained by other boys in the locker room after games. The practice -- called "baptism" -- occurred several times during the basketball season, as well as the previous year, according to the report.

It didn't clarify exactly what "placing genitals in the faces" meant.

Two boys admitted to "baptizing" other players, according to the report. Other boys were cited in the report as helping restrain the victims while they were being "baptized." Because they are underage and students, none of the boys' names were used in the report.

The scandal spawned two lawsuits against the school district, one in state court and one in federal court. Rebecca Nelle was the plaintiff in the federal suit, which was settled after the Huntsville School Board voted to admit liability, pay $1 in damages and have school employees take Title IX training, in exchange for Joey McCutchen, Nelle's lawyer, waiving attorneys fees.

Nelle's suit, which was filed on behalf of her son, provided definitions of "baptism" and "bean-dipping," another activity alleged to be taking place in the locker rooms.

"Baptism,' as the term is used in this Complaint, refers to the placing of one's genitals on the face and/or in the mouth of another student," according to her lawsuit. "'Bean-dipping,' as the term is used in this Complaint, refers to placing a student's rectum and anus on the face and particularly the nose of another student."

In mid-April, Durrett said he had asked Capt. Russell Alberts with the Madison County sheriff's office to write an incident report regarding the case.

"Since we can't release the file due to the Child Maltreatment Act, we had Capt. Alberts do a summary," said Durrett.

According to Alberts' report, besides Kimball and Houston, the investigation also revealed Athletic Director Tommy McCollough and High School Principal Roxanne Enix were also mandated reporters in accordance with § 12-18-402 and were "required to report incidents involving suspected or actual child maltreatment."

The incident was brought to Enix's attention Feb. 9, 2021, according to Alberts' report. Enix would have been the first mandated reporter having knowledge of the incident, he wrote. (According to Nelle's lawsuit, a parent informed Houston about the locker-room abuse in October 2020.)

The Child Abuse Hotline received six calls about the Huntsville case March 2, wrote Alberts. That was apparently after a formal complaint was filed and word was spreading in town.

"However the incident does not meet the criteria of child maltreatment," according to Alberts' report.

Sexual abuse, neglect, sexual exploitation and abandonment don't apply in this case, he wrote.

Indecent exposure falls under the category of sexual abuse, but "even though there may have been an indecent exposure, there was no sexual gratification involved," according to the incident report.

According to Arkansas Code Annotated 12-18-103,"'Indecent exposure' means the exposure by a person of the person's sexual organs for the purpose of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of the person or of any other person under circumstances in which the person knows the conduct is likely to cause affront or alarm."

"This leaves only abuse, which by definition refers to acts carried out by a parent, guardian or others as defined in 12-18-103 ... not the victims' peers," wrote Alberts.

"Conclusion is that ... there was not a requirement to report the incident to the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline," according to the report.

Information for this article was contributed by Ron Wood of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Print Headline: Ex-school officials called to court


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