Fayetteville attorney Brian Hogue will no longer be the decision maker in the ongoing months-long Title IX investigation into alleged sexual assaults by members of the Huntsville School District’s boys basketball team after Hogue received a text message in which someone sought to influence his decision.

On Monday, Nov. 1, a text message from a phone number belonging to School Board Member Duane Glenn was sent to Hogue that read, “I hope you had the evidence to make this case clear and no doubts. If the parties involved are not punished to the max the school will have major problems. The superintendent and some members have already received threatening emails. Just letting you know how serious this is. Please delete this.” Another text message was sent from the same number that said there was no need for Hogue to respond because “we will have to go with your decision whatever it might be.”

A week after receiving the text message, Hogue sent an email on Nov. 9 to parents of students involved that said he had been contacted by someone who was possibly trying to attempt to influence his decision.

Hogue told parents, “I must inform you all that I have been directly contacted by an individual in what appears to be a possible attempt to influence my decision in this matter.  My role as decision maker requires that I remain wholly impartial,” Hogue wrote.

Hogue went on to state “Although I do not personally believe that this affects my impartiality in this matter, I feel that you all should be aware of this and have an opportunity to raise any objections” before issuing his decision. He gave parents until the close of business Nov. 10 to raise any objections. If parents did not do so, “I will presume that there are none and I will move forward with finalizing my decision,” he wrote in the email. 

Some parents responded to the email that they did not have an objection. A representative of one student wrote that he trusted Hogue’s ability to remain impartial, but that if the attempted influence was from a representative of the school going outside the established Title IX protocol, “that such a procedure would be an irregularity and would affect our client’s right to due process.” 

Hogue told The Record on Wednesday that he is no longer the decision maker. He also sent an email to parents involved letting them know that he had “decided that I should step aside as the decision maker in this matter in order to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.” He informed parents that another decision maker will be appointed by the district who “will conclude this matter.” 

Hogue was hired to recommend punishment in the district’s second Title IX investigation into boys in the basketball team. The investigation has been ongoing for several months.  For two seasons, players were alleged to have sexually assaulted teammates in the locker room before and after games. Victims were alleged to have been assaulted multiple times on multiple nights. One player was assaulted 14 times in one season.

These developments come after the district provided Hogue the final investigatory report August 24. During the past few months, parents and students have asked and answered several addition questions submitted by students accused of baptizing their teammates and those being allegedly assaulted.

District officials, including Huntsville School Board President Danny Thomas, have grown frustrated with the length it has taken to complete the investigation and render a decision. 

Thomas recently told The Record, “We’re still in freaking limbo. I just asked the question yesterday, ‘Where we at? Where we at? Well, it still has to go back out because they wanted more questions asked. Blah, blah, blah. So now we’re in another 10 days and I’m like, ‘My God.’ It’s pitiful. So anyway I just want it to be done and over.”

According to several parents contacting The Record, just last week District Title IX Director Tonja McCone pulled some players involved out of class to ask them additional questions. During that line of questioning, according to parents, McCone directly named two students being investigated.  The students being interviewed were required to call a parent, guardian or representative while being questioned. 

This is the second Title IX investigation into the allegations of “baptizing” and “bean-dipping,” names given to the alleged assaults by players. Baptizing occurred when players undressed and placed their bare genitals on the face, forehead or hair of teammates, who were being physically restrained.  Players were also “bean-dipped,” which occurred when players placed their rectum on another player’s face or nose.

According to text messages exchanged by Huntsville School Superintendent Audra Kimball and district attorney Charles Harwell of Crouch, Harwell, Fryar and Fennell, Harwell suggested Hogue as the decision maker.

In May, Harwell contacted Hogue. At that time, Harwell told Kimball that Hogue “had not been contacted by any families of the Huntsville students so it would appear he does not have a conflict. It probably would be best if Tonja [McCone] were to call him and let him know the names of the students involved so that he can make sure he runs a complete conflict check.  … But he’s willing and able to help out,” Harwell wrote. 

“I did not ask his hourly rate but I assume that you would pay him by the hour,” Harwell texted Kimball in May. 

On Wednesday, Hogue said he had no further comments. 

Decision makers in the first Title IX investigation were Huntsville High School Principal Roxanne Enix, Huntsville Middle School Principal Matt Ferguson and Director of Athletics Tom McCollough.

During the first Title IX investigation, Enix, Ferguson and McCollough recommended a year-long expulsion of two students who admitted to baptizing teammates and 10 days of out-of-school suspensions for three students alleged to have physically restrained players being assaulted. Glenn was the only board member to vote against the year-long expulsion for the two students. 

After the appeals hearings, Glenn voted to lessen the punishment from a year to a semester and voted to throw out completely punishment for the three students given out-of-school suspension.