The months-long second Huntsville School District Title IX investigation into alleged sexual assaults in the boys’ locker rooms was thrown into a tailspin when decision maker Brian Hogue abruptly withdrew after receiving text messages from longtime school board member Duane Glenn who was attempting to improperly influence Hogue’s decision. 

Hogue withdrew from the investigation that began in the spring just as he was set to recommend discipline for students accused of sexually assaulting teammates during the 2019-2020 basketball season. Hogue’s departure left the district in search of a new decision maker and parents wondering how much longer the case would be delayed. 

Events leading to Hogue’s decision began Nov. 1 when he received a text message from Glenn that read, “I’m reaching out to you as a patron of the Huntsville school district. 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. Thank you.” Another text message immediately followed that said, “No need to reply back, we will have to go with your decision whatever it might be.”

On Nov. 9, Hogue, an attorney in private practice hired by the district for the sole act of decision maker, sent an email to parents of students who had filed complaints and parents of boys being investigated for sexual assault alerting them that he had been contacted by someone who was possibly trying to attempt to influence his decision. 

Hogue told parents  “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.” If parents did not object by the close of business on Nov. 10, Hogue said he would presume no objections existed and “I will move forward with finalizing my decision.”

Some parents responded they had no objections. George Rozzell, attorney for a student involved, wrote 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.” 

On Nov. 10, Hogue sent an email 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 said he had no further comments. 

A parent of a student involved said they had not heard anything from the district after Glenn sent the message and Hogue stepped down. 

Glenn attended the regular school board meeting on Monday night but did not offer a comment on the texts. The board also did not discuss the Title IX investigations, the decision maker’s resignation, the appointment of a new decision maker, or the texts. 

On Tuesday, Glenn texted The Record, “You didn’t put the entire text on your website I was told. Why would you leave out certain parts of the text? I’m a patron of HSD, the investigation was taking to (sic) long. I in no way tried to get the respondents out of trouble. The public wants this over and respondents punished. The text is not a big deal, unless you make it a big deal. Which you will, someone did something to try and speed up process and get closure for the kids. He didn’t want to make decision, decision maker used text as a way out. A new decision maker will take over where old one stopped.” 

Glenn’s texts he sent to Hogue are printed in full with this story and on our website at www.mrecordonline.com. 

Hired By District


Hogue was hired in June to recommend punishment for students being investigated in the second Title IX case.  The district agreed to pay Hogue $300 per hour plus additional expenses incurred in conducting the investigation. 

“We have not received a bill at that time,” Huntsville School District Superintendent Audra Kimball said this week. 

The investigation has been ongoing for several months.  For two seasons, players were alleged to have sexually assaulted teammates in the boys’ 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. 

This summer, Glenn was frustrated with the news coming out about the allegations, saying as a school board member he was not aware of the some of the information being shared. 

“Here’s the deal, with me to be fair, impartial and not make my mind up beforehand, I don’t want to know anything,” Glenn said this summer. 

“When we come [to school board meetings], we see that stuff but as far as being out somewhere [in the community], you don’t discuss that stuff with people. You know, you just don’t do it. … If you get into the investigation or whatever, you’re in trouble. You hurt the case.”

Lucas Harder, policy services director of the Arkansas School Board Association, said when the district hires a new decision maker, Glenn should recuse. 

“Because should the decision maker recommend expulsion for these students, the board has to be an objective observer for that,” Harder said.

“So the board member has already put themselves at question as to whether or not he could be objective,” Harder said. 


Months-long

Investigation


The district provided Hogue the final investigatory report in the on-going investigation on Aug. 24. During the past weeks, parents and students have asked and answered several additional questions submitted by parents and students accused of sexually abusing teammates. 

On Oct. 25, Kimball alerted district attorney Charles Harwell of Crouch, Harwell, Fryar and Ferner, that she had not heard from Hogue, who had told the district he would have the report “last Friday.” 

Harwell said he had spoken to Hogue recently and that the district should follow up on Oct. 27. 

At the beginning of November, District Title IX Coordinator Tonja McCone pulled approximately 15 Huntsville High School students involved in the investigation out of class to ask them additional questions. According to parents and Rozzell, McCone directly named two students being investigated.  

The students being interviewed were required to call a parent, guardian or representative while being questioned. 

Rozzell wrote that McCone’s line of questioning is “improper and outside the scope of the investigation and hearing process under your Title IX procedures.”

Rozzell demanded McCone “cease the investigation” and allow Hogue to render his decision. 

On Nov. 5, Hogue responded that the investigation was closed and McCone was asking questions “posed by one of the parties and I have merely requested her assistance in gathering answers.”

Hogue also assured Rozzell “I have not, and will not, discuss any of this with any unrelated party.”

As of Tuesday, a new decision maker had not been named but Kimball said Harwell was working on finding a new one. 

The Record contacted board members – Glenn, Lenora Riedel, Danny Thomas, Kyle Taylor, Janeal Yancey, Kevin Wilson and Terry Forsyth – but none responded to text messages or phone calls seeking comment.

District officials, including Board President 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.”


Past Votes


Decision makers in the first Title IX investigation 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 expulsions. 

“Baptizing” is a term used by players to describe the alleged assaults. In reports,  players described “baptizing” as happening when a shoe was thrown in the air, whomever it landed on would be pushed down and a teammate would rub their bare genitals across other players faces, foreheads and in players’ hair.

The students being expelled appealed and after the appeals hearing, Glenn voted with the majority of the board to lessen the punishment from a year to a semester and to throw out completely punishment for the three students given out-of-school suspension. 

The first complaint in this ongoing investigation was filed May 5. It alleged that an older player “baptized” him.  It also stated that at the end of the season, one of the players who had “baptized” players stated he was “passing the torch down” to another student, who was called the “ballmaster.”

A second complaint was filed July 14 by a player stating he also had been sexually assaulted during the 2019-2020 basketball season. On Aug. 13, yet another player requested to file a complaint. He sent information to Hogue via email. 

So far only two students – those who admitted to “baptizing” their teammates – have been expelled by the district for their involvement in the alleged sexual assaults.


Investigatory Report 


Dr. Tammy Tucker of the Fayetteville School District began interviewing students in the second investigation in May. 

Twenty-seven players were questioned or offered responses. They were asked as members of the junior high basketball team if they witnessed athletes baptizing teammates. All but one player said they either witnessed other players baptizing teammates or they were aware of it going on. One player said, “The lights were out. There was a lot of hollering and shouting; roughhousing.” 

One player said they put their bare genitals on another players’ face depending on how much they resisted. Some players interviewed admitted they had been “baptized.”

Players were asked how many times “baptizing” happened. One player said 10 to 15 times. One player said, “after we won an important game.” One player said he wasn’t sure how many times because, “I just want to get in and get out. I have never tried to stay in the locker room.” One player said it stopped happening in high school. “I think everyone matured and realized it wasn’t cool and not a joke.”

Tucker asked if the same players did the “baptizing.” Some players stated who was responsible, while other players said they didn’t know because the lights were out. Those filing the complaints pointed to specific players. 

During the interviews, players also admitted that they had been “baptized.” 

Asked if they told anyone, all players said they had not. A couple players said they wished they had. One player told Tucker, “When I heard about it, I didn’t really think anything of it so I didn’t tell anybody. Now I wish I had figured it out and told someone.” 

Another player said, “I didn’t tell anyone about it.  At the time, I didn’t think it was serious, but yeah. It’s bad.” 

None of the players interviewed thought the coaches were aware. One player said, “I’m sure if they knew, somebody would have stopped it.” 

After the interviews were completed, parents were said to have been given a copy of the report and allowed to ask any questions. One player stated, “It seemed that everyone thought that it [the issue of ‘baptizing’] was more as a joke because no one I know of took it seriously and everyone was always just laughing. No one talked about it outside of the locker room. … I never heard any threats regarding if someone told. The lights were always off so it was hard to even know what was taking place, I just know that it was always just a big pile up, more like roughhousing.”

In the report turned over to Hogue on Aug. 24, McCone did not redact any students names. 


Previous Conflict


Riedel also has a potential conflict of interest in this ongoing investigation as she is related to one of the students. In the first investigation, after the recommendation to expel two students for one year, Riedel recused herself but sat through the hearing and listened to all of the evidence. Because of her attendance at that hearing, one student appealed the board’s decision.

At the appeals hearing, Riedel refused to recuse and voted against the motion lessening the students’ punishment. According to text messages, Riedel wanted students punished under the school’s bullying policy, which could have been three days of out-of-school suspension rather than a semester. 

At Monday night’s regular monthly board meeting held at St. Paul School library, parents represented by Benjamin Rightsell called for the resignation of the entire board. 

“I’m not a lone voice in this. I have here petitions with names from your fellow community members who all ask that this entire school board step down for dereliction of duty. 

“You no longer have our support, our faith that you can remain unbiased in this situation to do your job or protect our children,” Rightsell said.

Rightsell, who has four children in the district, told the board children are no longer safe in the district. 

Two lawsuits have been filed against the district for its handling of the allegations. Rightsell sued the district for its violations of the open-meetings laws. A parent on behalf of her son, who was alleged to have been assaulted at least 14 times, has filed a Title IX suit against the district.