The Madison County Sheriff’s Office completed its investigation into the alleged sexual assaults by some members of the Huntsville junior high boys basketball team and turned its report over to Fourth Judicial Prosecuting Attorney Matt Durrett last week. 

Durrett said he will review the approximately 150-page report before deciding whether to go forward with charges against any of the juveniles.

Durrett said he didn’t know how quickly the case will get resolved, but his office intended to “review it keeping in mind that people have been waiting a while for this.”

The investigation stems from allegations that boys basketball players sexually assaulted teammates in the locker room after games. Those players who were assaulted were considered “baptized.” The players described “baptizing” as several players physically restraining teammates while other players undressed and placed their bare genitals in or on the restrained players’ faces. The incidents happened multiple times to several players over the span of two basketball seasons. 

During a Title IX investigation by the Huntsville School District into the junior high boys basketball team, two players admitted “baptizing” teammates.

The sheriff’s office has interviewed players about the allegations taking place in the 2020-2021 season involving the junior high allegations, but doesn’t appear to have interviewed high school players alleged to have baptized players in the 2019-2020 season. 

Whether or not possible criminal charges in juvenile proceedings are filed will be at Durrett’s discretion. 

“Ultimately it will be up to our office to make any legal conclusions,” Durrett said.

“Just like when an officer makes an arrest on whatever charge, ultimately the filing decision is up to us as to what charge is going to be filed. Nine times out of 10 it’s whatever the officer arrests them for but ultimately … that decision rests with us.”

Durrett is not sure if an Arkansas State Police investigation has been opened into the same allegations. 

“I haven’t personally gotten anything from the state police. I can’t say either way,” he said.

“Typically the state police are not going to jump into an investigation into which there is a local enforcement agency unless there is a specific request made.”

A request is usually made “when there is a conflict,” he said.

Several members of the community have said they called the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline when they learned of the allegations. Huntsville School District Superintendent Audra Kimball has also stated she called the hotline. 

“There is a difference in a hotline report and a criminal complaint,” Durrett said. “A hotline report is not going to automatically generate any type of criminal complaint or any type of criminal investigation. And, those calls are confidential.” 

The Huntsville School District began an investigation into the allegations on Feb. 22. An official Title IX investigation was opened Feb. 26.

In a Title IX investigatory report sent to parents in April, the district noted that School Resource Office Monica Blair, who also works for sheriff’s office, was aware of the allegations.

According to the district Title IX Coordinator Tonja McCone, before Kimball called the hotline, Kimball spoke to the school resource officer.

When parent Carl Stewart received the investigatory report, he said he called Madison County Sheriff Rick Evans and asked Evans what Evans planned to do about the allegations. But Evans was not interested in the case, Stewart said.

“They just weren’t hearing it,” Stewart said.

In June when asked about the allegations, Evans said, “The school’s handling it.”

However by June 21, 10 days after The Record’s first report on the story, the sheriff’s office reversed course and began investigating.

In an email exchange on June 21 with the school district’s attorney Charles Harwell, Kimball stated that the sheriff’s office had requested documents from the Title IX investigation.

“The sheriff explained to me that the heat is now on them,” Kimball wrote Harwell. “I reminded him that the SRO has known about the situation along,” Kimball wrote. 

Harwell suggested the sheriff’s office subpoena the Title IX records from the district.

A parent filed a complaint on July 6 with Huntsville Chief of Police Todd Thomas. Another parent filed an additional complaint with the city police just a few days later. Todd Thomas, who is Huntsville School Board President Danny Thomas’ brother, said he would immediately turn over the investigation the state police due to the conflict of interest he has in the case. 

“I have been in communications with prosecutor Matt Durrett,” Todd Thomas said recently, “who advised me that the Madison County Sheriff’s Office would be taking the lead investigation on this incident and that is was in the best interest for prosecution that one agency investigate. I have sent all information I have concerning the incident to the Madison County Sheriff’s Office,” Todd Thomas said. 

“Given the relationship that he has,” Durrett said, “I agreed with him that from all appearances that it was best to forward everything over to them (the sheriff’s office) to handle it.”

Proceedings in juvenile court are not open to the public. 

“Proceedings are confidential and the Child Maltreatment Act prohibits the release of police reports and other documents generated in the investigation of the maltreatment of any minor,” Durrett said.

If charges are filed, proceedings are similar to what takes place in a criminal case, with a few differences, such as not having a jury and being closed to the public

“All proceedings including final determination are confidential.” Durrett said. 

The Title IX investigation into the junior high team was closed after the school board expelled for one semester two students who admitted baptizing other players. The two expulsions are the only punishment that has been handed down by the Huntsville School Board for students involved in the incidents. After three students who were accused of physically restraining students who were baptized appealed their recommended punishment of out-of-school suspension for five days, they had their disciplinary recommendations completely thrown out, including Title IX and bullying training. 

When appealing the expulsion, one student admitted to baptizing other students but placed the blame on older students who he said had baptized him during the last basketball season. A Title IX investigation into players on the high school basketball team remains ongoing, but was turned over the decision maker in the case, attorney Brian Hogue, last week.

Because the board threw out all recommended punishment of out-of-school suspension for the three students, those students are continuing in football and basketball practice and were volunteers at peewee sports camps this summer. 

Parents in the community have expressed outrage over the lack of transparency by the school district and the lack of punishment for all of the students involved.