School workers on leave in rape case
November 26, 2013
STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — An Ohio school district has placed its superintendent and two other employees on leave after they were charged following an investigation prompted by the rape of a 16-year-old girl by two high school football players.
The Steubenville school board did not address the allegations against the employees and referred all questions to the state attorney general, who is leading the investigation.
The board announced Tuesday the employees were placed on leave at an emergency board meeting Monday. A former superintendent was also tapped to lead the district temporarily.
The board said its focus is making sure the district can continue to educate students.
The employees were charged with lying or failing to report possible child abuse after an investigation prompted by the rape of the West Virginia girl.
"This community is rectifying the problem. This community is taking charge. This community is fixing things. This community is holding people accountable," Attorney General Mike DeWine said. "That's what this grand jury did."
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The investigation included crimes committed in connection with the case against two members of the celebrated Steubenville High School football team as well as a separate alleged rape that happened in April 2012, four months before the assault that drew nationwide attention over demands that prosecutors should have charged more players.
Hacker activists helped propel coverage of the rape case and press allegations of a cover-up, including reposting of a 12-minute Internet video made within hours of the attacks in which a former Steubenville student joked about the victim.
DeWine convened the grand jury to look into the behavior of school administrators and other adults after the two players were convicted last March. Under the law, educators are required to report allegations of child abuse.
Two people had already been charged before Steubenville Superintendent Mike McVey, strength coach Seth Fluharty, volunteer football coach Matthew Belardine and elementary school principal Lynnett Gorman were charged Monday.
McVey's charges include felony counts of obstructing justice and tampering with evidence and a misdemeanor charge alleging he made a false statement in April 2012. McVey's attorney didn't immediately return messages seeking comment.
Belardine, whose house authorities said was the scene of the underage drinking party that preceded the rape last summer, faces several misdemeanor charges, including making a false statement and contributing to underage alcohol consumption. In a statement to The Associated Press, defense attorneys Brian Duncan and Adam Nemann, who previously represented one of the football players, called the charges against Belardine unsubstantiated and said he will plead not guilty.
Fluharty was charged with failing to report possible child abuse in August 2012. Columbus attorney Tom Tyack said he had been contacted to represent Fluharty but could not comment.
Gorman is charged with failing to report possible child abuse in April 2012. Her attorney, Stephen LaMatrice, said she will plead not guilty and the charge isn't connected to the football players' case, but he declined to elaborate.
State law in Ohio requires a lengthy list of public and private workers — including school administrators, teachers and employees — to immediately report suspected cases of abuse or neglect.
"If you're covered, you have to know what the law says and do what it says," said Hollie Reedy, chief legal counsel for the Ohio School Boards Association.
DeWine announced the grand jury's creation March 17, the day a judge convicted Ma'Lik Richmond and Trent Mays of digitally penetrating the West Virginia girl after an alcohol-fueled party that followed a team scrimmage.
The grand jury earlier charged the Steubenville schools' information technology director with tampering with evidence, obstructing justice, obstructing official business and perjury. The panel also indicted that man's daughter on theft and receiving stolen property charges unrelated to the rape case. Both pleaded not guilty.
The case has long been marked by calls for more football players to be charged and allegations that police and prosecutors tried to cover up aspects of the case early on. Authorities counter that the two teens were arrested and charged within days of the attack.
DeWine said he believes the grand jury's work is done, barring any new evidence, and acknowledged people may wonder why still others weren't charged.
"It's not necessarily a crime to be insensitive or to be mean-spirited, or just to be stupid," DeWine said.
Big Red football is a big deal in the economically depressed city of about 18,000, a former steel town that shed thousands of jobs in past decades.
Derek Smith, 47, whose son is a fifth-grade student at the school overlooking the stadium that's home to the football team, said he was upset that school leaders might have been involved.
"Of course, it's always disturbing when you find out that the people that are in charge of your kids at school have been charged with this kind of thing," he said.
Richmond, 17, was convicted of rape and sentenced to a year in the juvenile prison system. Mays, also 17, was convicted of rape and of using his phone to take a picture of the girl naked and was sentenced to two years in juvenile detention.
Associated Press writers Kantele Franko, Mitch Stacy and Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio, and John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio, contributed to this report.