County School Board Mum After Getting Detailed Report On Ooltewah High Rape Investigation In Closed-Door Meeting

  • Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Scott Bennett, Rick Smith, Dr. Greg Martin
Scott Bennett, Rick Smith, Dr. Greg Martin
photo by Dennis Norwood

Hamilton County School Board members were mum Tuesday afternoon after getting a report on the Ooltewah High School rape investigation.

The board heard briefly from District Attorney Neal Pinkston, then stayed in "executive session" for another hour and a half.

Two board members said the focus was on finding out about the case in which three Ooltewah High basketball players are charged with the aggravated rape and assault of a 15-year-old teammate.

They said it was not about the future of Supt. Rick Smith, whose handling of the incident has brought him under fire from some quarters.

Board member Greg Martin said, "We are continuing our investigation. We care very much about the students of Hamilton County."

Asked if Supt. Smith, who was not at the meeting, was a topic, he said, "There is nothing really to say about that. He's our superintendent right now."

Board member Rhonda Thurman said DA Pinkston said his investigation is still ongoing.

Concerning the meeting after the district attorney left, she said, "We really can't tell you anything."

Ms. Thurman added, "We were here to get information about the Ooltewah High incident. We got some."

On the Smith topic, she said, "We were not here about Rick Smith."

Ms. Thurman said the board, who apparently met with board attorney Scott Bennett, said, "We were not allowed to ask questions. We were told to be quiet and listen. That is hard for us, but we did."

Dr. Martin, who is heading a panel studying how the county schools can best get a handle on bullying and hazing, said last week, "I think the community has made it pretty clear that they've lost confidence in the system and I think there needs to be change."

Supt. Smith last July was given a two-year extension on his contract. He already had two years remaining on the prior contract.

He acknowledged he made some mistakes in handling of the situation after three Ooltewah High School basketball players allegedly used a pool cue to haze four freshmen players while in Gatlinburg for a tournament.

One of the victims was seriously injured and hospitalized for a number of days after a pool cue was inserted into his rectum so hard that the end broke off.

Ooltewah High's athletic director and two basketball coaches have been charged with failing to report child abuse. They are due to go before Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw on Thursday morning.


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