Police say school officials, including the superintendent, knew a student was assaulted but never reported the crime.
On Wednesday morning, five employees at Midland Christian School in Texas were arrested and charged with “Failure to Report with Intent to Conceal Neglect or Abuse.” They allegedly downplayed or ignored an allegation of criminal sexual abuse that took place last month.
Since the details haven’t been fully released, here’s what we know from an arrest affidavit obtained by local media.
What we know about the case
Approximately a month ago, a freshman baseball player at the school was changing his clothes in the locker room when the lights were turned off and another student announced that it was “freshman initiation day.” In what appeared to be a hazing ritual, several students then beat up the victim before a tenth grader sexually assaulted him with a baseball bat. There was even video of the assault posted on social media.
An assistant principal at the school, Dana Ellis, was told what happened within days of the attack. She quickly told Superintendent Jared Lee, who then told athletic director Gregory McClendon and assistant principal Matthew Counts to investigate further.
Notice that none of them went to law enforcement.
They chose to deal with the matter internally.
But the police soon found out about the incident and began investigating the matter themselves. That meant speaking with school officials about what they knew and requesting all the documentation they had pertaining to the case. At first, school officials refused to hand anything over. So police got a warrant to obtain that documentation… only to find something so damning that it led to the arrests of Ellis, Lee, McClendon, Counts, and baseball coach Barry Russell.
What the police discovered
What did police find? It appears that the Christian school’s leaders all knew about the incident yet didn’t report it to law enforcement as required by the Texas State Code. Like so many Christian churches do when faced with internal misconduct, it seems like they didn’t want this story going anywhere.
Lee told the MPD officer on Feb. 14 he would not turn over the requested documentation about the incident and refused to answer any more questions over the phone.
A search warrant was then served on Feb. 14 at the school. Police were able to obtain the documents concerning the investigation, which the officer stated were essentially nothing and had only been created a few days prior.
So not only did they neglect to report the assault when they first learned about it, and not only did they refuse to cooperate with police after the fact, they also didn’t document the incident until they realized people might want to see it. They tried to cover it up. Everything just blew up in their faces.
For now, all five adults have been released from jail as they await their court date, and the school hasn’t issued anything beyond a perfunctory statement saying “school officials have, and will continue to, cooperate with law enforcement and their investigation.” One unnamed student has also been charged in the attack.
The reaction from former students
The bigger questions now involve why school officials weren’t following protocol when dealing with an alleged assault. Were they trying to keep it under wraps, or were they too ignorant to know the law? How could so many people have known about the hazing without confronting the problem earlier?
Some former students who spoke with local news outlet YourBasin said that none of this surprised them at all:
A former student we spoke with said, “This is definitely not the first cover up that has taken place at Midland Christian at the hands of coaches and staff.”
Another said there is a double standard and that the “boys get away with a lot” and are not always punished when accused of bad behavior.
Another said, “Same thing happened to my sister there. They (other students) slipped her a Xanax, she had no idea what it was as a sophomore, then during a talent show they started hitting her in the face with their (edited for language). My sister told the principal and the coaches and they suspended her for “taking” the Xanax, meanwhile they (the male students) got to play the next football game.”
To be clear, those are unsourced statements. But if the current allegations pan out, it would be a sign of remarkable neglect from the very people in charge of protecting the students at the school. As soon as they learned about the assault, they should’ve gone to the police, but initial reports suggest they were much more concerned with the school’s public image than making sure the victim received justice.
Why this story matters
It’s not like this is unique. The Catholic Church, Southern Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and plenty of other Christian denominations have been exposed for not properly dealing with sexual abuse within their own walls. They would rather protect the people in charge and maintain a positive image than confront the reality that abuse thrives in their communities precisely because of that approach.
Meanwhile, it’s not clear what, if anything, the school has done for the victim of the attack.
It’ll take a while for this case to play out in the courtroom, but if those school officials really did cover up the crime, they deserve whatever punishment they have coming. Had secular authorities not taken action, it’s likely no one would have been held accountable for the alleged abuse. We can’t count on Christians to police themselves when their actions repeatedly show they’re incapable of holding their tribe accountable.