The Madison County Sheriff’s Office is conducting interviews with junior high boys basketball players as an investigation is underway into allegations that players sexually assaulted teammates.

“There is an investigation that is proceeding,” according to Matt Durrett, the prosecuting attorney for the 4th Judicial District, which includes Madison County. 

The investigation is in addition to a parent giving a statement to the Huntsville Police Department last week alleging that junior high basketball players sexually assaulted her son by “baptizing” him as other players physically restrained him. 

“I filed a statement today with Officer [Dan] Rivera who is going to hand it over to [Huntsville Police] Chief Todd Thomas,” the parent said.

“The statement tells that I learned in February that my son was being sexually assaulted at the junior high basketball games by the junior high basketball team.”

“We now have an official open investigation into the Huntsville School’s basketball team allegations and I have reached out to the Arkansas State Police CID [Criminal Investigation Division] for their assistance,” Thomas confirmed. 

After allegations involving the basketball team were published by The Record, Thomas stated that he would turn everything over to the Arkansas State Police and would not lead an investigation but would assist the ASP, if needed. 

“It’s going to be just that simple,” Thomas said. “We’ll talk. We’ll ask whatever we need. … If they have any paperwork, we’ll make copies of it and they can bring it to me. I’ll call the CID officer and turn it all over to them,” Thomas said. 

Thomas is seeking to avoid a conflict of interest. Todd Thomas is the brother of Huntsville School Board President Danny Thomas. The allegations of sexual assault arose out of a Title IX complaint investigated by the Huntsville School District.

“I think that’s what the community wants, an outside agency,” Todd Thomas said. 

“Everybody knows everybody in this community. This is too small of a town for people to think there couldn’t be some kind of a bias there. Whether there was or wasn’t is irrelevant. You don’t want people to think it,” he said.

According to Title IX documents, players described “baptizing” as when several players physically restrained other teammates, mostly younger players, while other players undressed and then placed exposed sex organs in or on the restrained players’ faces. 

The alleged sexual assaults took place in the boys locker rooms after games between Nov. 2020 and February 2021.

During the initial Huntsville School District investigation into the junior high boys team, two players admitted the accusations and placed blame on players now on the senior-high team for having conducted the same act to them a year prior. That blame and additional allegations led to two additional players filing formal complaints with the school district. The school district continues to investigate those allegations. 

The initial investigation, which is now closed, stated that two students admitted to both holding down teammates and placing exposed sex organs in or on the faces of players who were restrained.

According to the parent of one of the students, who was a victim, the incidents happened multiple times to several players. Some players were “baptized” more than 10 times. Typically, a student was held down by three students, while two others “baptized” him.  

One parent said that after games, the older basketball players stood in front of the locker room doors to prevent other players from leaving, younger players would run to and hide in the locker room showers, the lights would go off and when the lights came back on, a player who had been “baptized” would be laying in the floor crying.

In order to protect the identity of the players involved, The Record has chosen not to print the names of the parents or guardians. 

After the first investigation was complete, the decision makers in the case recommended one-year expulsion for two students and five days of out-of-school suspension for three other students. The district conducted hearings into the recommended punishment. The board accepted the recommendations. 

It was prior to that meeting that Huntsville School Superintendent Audra Kimball failed to notify the press of the expulsion meeting and failed to record the meeting, both actions run afoul of the Freedom of Information Act and could lead to class C misdemeanor charges. 

An appeals hearing was held and the board reversed course, lessening the punishment by expelling the two students for only a semester and throwing out the punishment entirely for the three other students. 

Opening The Investigation

Durrett said he was contacted a couple of weeks ago and told that the sheriff’s office was going to look into the matter.  

“This is a case of high public interest,” he said. 

When contacted at the beginning of June regarding whether or not his office was conducting an investigation, all Madison County Sheriff Rick Evans said was, “The school’s handling it.” 

A formal complaint was filed at the end of February and the Title IX Final Investigative Report indicated that the MCSO school resource officer was aware of the “baptizing” incidents.

Durrett wasn’t told why Evans changed his mind and opened the investigation.

“At the beginning it could have been a misconception, not realizing the severity of it, the potential severity of it. As more and more information came out, I think it becomes apparent that this isn’t boys being boys. 

“I don’t want to prejudge it. If true, this isn’t a situation of boys being boys,” Durrett said.

The Title IX Final Investigative Report also stated in response to whether or not the Child Abuse Hotline had been contacted, “We consulted with school lawyer regarding this and also spoke with school resource officer.” 

The report does not state whether or not the hotline was called. Although Kimball stated that she reported the incidents to the hotline, she would not give a date when she made the report. 

Arkansas law requires mandated reporters, which Kimball is, to report incidents immediately. 

Multiple parents have stated that they have called the hotline. 

However, Durrett said that he has “not heard a word from the state.” He said he can’t say that the ASP are not involved but that the only agency he knows of that is doing an investigation is the MCSO.

Durrett said after the report is turned over to him, he will consider all potential crimes involved, including physical restraint, false imprisonment, sexual assault and rape. 

While the locker room doors were blocked from allowing other players from leaving, players would physically restrain other players, while players baptized teammates. In most instances, players placed sex organs in or on players faces. 

Included in one part of the Title IX Final Investigative Report, a text message refers to a time when a sex organ was shoved in another player’s mouth. 

“It’s something that absolutely needs to be investigated, thoroughly investigated and looked into,” Durrett said. 

“There are varying elements all the way through,” Durrett said. 

“If charges are ultimately filed, they’ll go to juvenile court,” he said. “Assuming charges are filed, I’m not going to be able to comment since it’s juvenile court.” Proceedings in juvenile court are sealed and confidential.

Conflict Of Interest

The sheriff’s office also has a conflict of interest in the investigation but the officer has stated that he has recused himself from the case. 

Corporal Monica Blair, who is also the school resource officer, has contacted players’ parents regarding interviews. 

However,  Lt. Michael Sloan of the sheriff’s office is related to one of the players involved in the case. 

“I don’t have anything to do with this investigation,” Sloan said. “I’ve recused myself. I don’t know the details or anything about it. 

“And I’m going to not know anything about it. I’m not purview to any of it, any information, any kind of interviews or any kind of case results or anything. All I know is that the sheriff said that we’re going to pick up an investigation on it and that’s the extent that I know,” Sloan said. 

Durrett said he is not comfortable speaking about whether or not another agency should declare a conflict, but “you shouldn’t have a relative working on the case.” However, it’s not uncommon to have employees with a conflict of interest separated from cases, he said.

No “hard and fast rules” exist for when an agency can declare a conflict,  Durrett said. 

“Usually an agency will call in someone else when they feel that they can’t conduct something in an unbiased manner,” he said. 

If the sheriff’s office were to declare a conflict, the agency most likely to take over is the ASP, Durrett said.