Season canceled for team at center of rape investigation

(Courtesy: WATE)

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee high school has called off the rest of its basketball season after three of its players were arrested on charges of raping a teammate in an apparent hazing incident.

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith said Wednesday he was taking this “very unusual step” with Ooltewah High School “so that the criminal justice system can work the way we expect.”

Gatlinburg police said three teens face aggravated rape and aggravated assault charges in connection with injuries to a teammate, who underwent surgery after being assaulted while attending a basketball tournament. Tennessee law defines aggravated rape as a rape in which the defendant either has a weapon, causes bodily injury or is aided or abetted by another.

None of the teens has been named because they’re all juveniles.

Smith said he canceled the rest of the season because he was concerned public speculation about the case “could threaten the integrity” of the investigation.

MORE: Officials quiet so far about Ooltewah basketball player rape

“This decision is not a reflection upon the coaching staff,” Smith said. “Indeed, law enforcement officials have to date found no evidence any adult acted improperly. Likewise, this decision is not meant to punish the boys on the team who are innocent of any wrongdoing and simply want to play high school sports.

Ooltewah athletic director Jesse Nayadley told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that the three players have been dismissed from the team, and Smith told the paper that they are treating this as a “very serious long-term suspension matter.”

The Hamilton County district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office are investigating whether an “ongoing pattern of assaults” may have been committed “under the guise of hazing.”

The district attorney’s office said in its release that nobody has reported any criminal behavior in Hamilton County by anyone associated with the team thus far. Gatlinburg isn’t in Hamilton County.

Curtis Bowe, an attorney representing Ooltewah coach Andre Montgomery, issued a statement this week saying that “the issue affecting our community is not hazing or bullying” and instead “is the unilateral decision of three individuals charged with a sexual offense.”

A group of more than 120 Ooltewah High School alumni signed a letter requesting that an outside authority investigate the Gatlinburg incident. In the letter, they said that “we depend on you to create the right atmosphere for students. Instead of burying this incident of rape and assault, we ask that you address it head-on and as transparently as possible within the confines of the law.”

“I was just really upset that this type of sexual violence could occur at my high school,” Regina Baucom, who wrote the letter, said in a phone interview. “My high school was a very sleepy, kind of happy place, as I remember it. This type of violence against a child anywhere is very upsetting.”

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