Full Statements By Supt. Rick Smith And Board Chairman Jonathan Welch On Ooltewah High Rape Case

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Here are the full statements by Supt. Rick Smith and School Board Chairman Jonathan Welch on the Ooltewah rape case in which three Ooltewah High basketball team members were charged with the aggravated rape of a 15-year-old teammate:

Supt. Smith said, "We are devastated by the events that occurred during an athletic field trip during the holidays.  Our administration is and will continue to cooperate with any and all investigative agencies concerning this matter.  Additionally, we are currently reviewing all procedures, policies, and expectations in the hope that nothing like this ever happens again.

"This tragedy has had a profound effect on all of our community, in particular the Ooltewah community.  We need to support Ooltewah High School knowing that this is not representative of the nearly 1600 students that attend that proud school.

"Because this is an ongoing investigation, I am extremely limited in what I can say or communicate publicly, but I do want everyone to know how heartbroken I am about this but intend to work diligently with my staff, our school board, and the community, to develop the kind of safeguards that will prevent this from ever happening again.

"I have been advised by Attorney Bennett that the Sevier County District Attorney’s Office and the Gatlinburg Police Department have expressed concern regarding the extent to which the press and social media have been speculating upon the incident.  Their concern is that there has been a significant amount of misinformation and erroneous reporting that threatens to compromise the completion of their investigation.  Since the Sevier County Juvenile Court has sealed the file and ordered those involved not to comment, law enforcement is not in a position to correct the public’s misperceptions.  Accordingly, they have asked the Hamilton County Board of Education to take whatever steps might be reasonable not to fuel the speculation.

"A great deal of the public speculation has centered around the operation of Ooltewah High School’s boys’ varsity basketball program.  Since this speculation is likely to continue until the investigation is concluded, and since this speculation could threaten the integrity of law enforcement’s investigation, I have decided to end the team’s 2015-2016 season." 

Chairman Welch said,

Board Chairman Jonathan Welch made the following statement:

"No one wants to be here tonight.  There is a good school, with wonderful students and teachers and a good community with wonderful families hurting.  I can only say I truly understand your frustration, hurt and anger and can only say it will get better. 

"While the public is looking for answers we won’t have any tonight.  This board does not have investigative powers and we do not have powers to discipline students or employees.  That power lies with the superintendent.

"We do however have a responsibility to the public.  A responsibility to see that the superintendent runs the school system in an effective manner, and that the system runs in a manner that instills confidence in the system.  The last two weeks that has not occurred.   Due to the ongoing investigation and the necessary deference to it the public has been left with the impression that we on this board seem to not be aware or not truly concerned of the serious nature of the events that occurred with the Ooltewah basketball team.  Let me be clear, I and I believe each of the board members here along with Superintendent Smith and all of our employees do not have the words to adequately describe the feelings we have toward this situation.  Tragic, horrific, unfathomable, none describe it. 

"The public feels that there is going to be a “cover up.”  Or worse that any discipline will only be taken out on a scapegoat and that any institutional problems may not be addressed as long as the “problem” goes away.

"The intense emotion of the last two weeks makes it difficult to address this lack of confidence in our system and its ability to effectively manage this situation.  That is why I welcome local law enforcement’s engagement to help assure the public that this will be properly investigated and not just “swept under the rug” as has been said in numerous email’s we have received. 

"Tonight is a first step.  And I believe only a first step.  I don’t know at this time what the next steps will be.  But I ask that law enforcement be allowed to do their jobs, and investigate.   We cannot supersede any law enforcement investigation.  But we can benefit from their investigation if we allow them the space to work.  If we act rashly though we can damage their ability to investigate. 

"There are many questions that need to be answered.  But some of the questions being asked cannot be answered until all investigations are complete.

 "At some point there will be questions for this board and I believe the most important one we will have to ask ourselves is what could have been done differently, or better.  That is the goal, simply to make it better and we take a very small step toward that tonight by beginning the conversation and acknowledging the frustration felt by the public and saying we feel it as well.

"Please, if you have anything you think this school system should know, please contact us or law enforcement.

"At this time at the request of law enforcement and due to the ongoing investigation I must ask that you refer all questions to our attorney, the District Attorney or the Sheriff’s Department. 

"As we have been told due to the ongoing investigation we will have no further public discussion and this meeting stands adjourned."




Just 4,380 Have Voted In The City Election After 9 Days Of Early Voting

Just 4,380 Chattanooga voters have cast ballots after nine days of early voting leading up to the March 7 city election. One day just 48 people showed up at the Northgate voting site. Only 88 went to the most popular early voting site - the election office off Amnicola Highway the same day. The high turnout thus far has been 199 at the election office on Tuesday. The ... (click for more)

Police Blotter: Man Finds Possible Rival's Hat While Delivering Gifts To Girlfriend; Man In Underwear Fussing With Neighbors

A man said he came by a house on Alabama Avenue in St. Elmo to give his daughter and his girlfriend gifts. While there he found a hat belonging to his cousin and he now believes that they are cheating on him. The girlfriend said that this was not true and did not want him there anymore because of his behavior. He agreed to leave and left walking. * * * A Brainerd woman ... (click for more)

CVB Should Share Financials With The Home Folks

The recent debate over the Convention and Visitor's Bureau's funding and budget has gotten ugly. A Hamilton County commissioner has asked questions and made comments about the CVB. The director of the CVB has organized a campaign to dismiss the commissioner's questions and comments. The children on the playground are choosing sides and nothing useful seems to be happening. It's ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Haggling Must Stop

Far be it for me to suggest the Hamilton County Commission and the School Board need to spend more time at recess but it was obvious this week the two groups need to work at being better friends. We have nine county commissioners and just as many corresponding school board members to work together for the betterment of one entity – Hamilton County. Everybody who thinks that is happening ... (click for more)

McCallie Advances To D-II Final Four With 67-48 Win

The third time wasn’t the charm for the Pope John Paul II Knights. Playing at McCallie in the quarterfinal round of the Division II state basketball tournament Saturday night, the Knights played better than they had the previous two times they met, but the result was the same as McCallie advanced to the Final Four with a 67-48 victory. McCallie, snipping a three-game losing ... (click for more)

'Canes Roll Past Stone Memorial 62-38 In Region 3-3A Action

(Story will be updated) East Hamilton was able to shake off a devastating 30-point loss to Cleveland in the District 5-3A championship game earlier in the week and Stone Memorial was victimized by the Hurricanes’ big bounce-back. East Hamilton held the visitors scoreless in the first quarter and went on to shellack the Panthers 62-38 in a history-making victory on its ... (click for more)