SCOTT COUNTY, VA (WJHL) – While a Gate City High School baseball player racked up praise for his play on the baseball field, the sex crimes he and his brother committed remained out of the spotlight until News Channel 11 asked a judge to release the records.
A Community Watchdog investigation revealed almost three months after the two baseball players pleaded guilty to sexually abusing their 11-year-old neighbor at an off-campus campout, Scott County Public Schools finally took action, kicking one of the teens off another sports team. That action came long after the end of the baseball season, long after someone first alerted the district about the situation and only after we started investigating.
Our investigation found the school district and legal system allowed the abusers to continue to play sports and go to school while their victim spent last year receiving his education at home. That victim, with his parents’ consent, agreed to share his story, which we should warn you includes graphic details. We’re not going to name him or show his face.
The victim says during a late night backyard campout among friends in summer 2015 his friends assaulted him not once, but twice with a plastic bottle.
“It was scary,” he said. “It was just a night of horror. They took a water bottle and put it up me. They pushed me down and they pulled down my pants and they put it up in me. Then they took a water bottle that had water in it. They put it back up in. I literally don’t know why.”
The criminal case played out behind closed doors in Scott County Juvenile Court and for months the details never grabbed any headlines. Up until recently, the records remained off limits to the public because they involve juveniles, but we found out Virginia Code allows judges to release documents related to felonies, so we wrote the judge a letter and asked him to release the records. After conferring with the Supreme Court of Virginia, 30th District Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judge Ronald Elkins released the teens’ charging petitions and plea agreements.
Those records show the Scott County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office charged the brothers with object sexual penetration in November after an investigation by the Scott County Sheriff’s Office. According to Virginia Code, if committed by an adult, that crime results in a prison sentence of five years to life.
The suspects were his neighbors. At the time, court records show one was 15 and the other was 17 years old. Several months later, the brothers joined the GCHS baseball team. The victim identified both in the most recent yearbook baseball team picture.
One of the abusers was a star in the making who grabbed the headlines for his power hitting in May of this year, just weeks after he and his brother pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual battery.
The teens’ defense attorney is a familiar face. Delegate Terry Kilgore (R-District 1) represented both boys. He says the bottle never penetrated the boy.
“Yes, there was some horseplay going on, but not to the nature of the original charge,” he said. “It couldn’t have happened, because first no medical treatment was sought, no medical reports and no injury to the victim.”
Court records show on May 4, with the baseball regular season nearing an end, the teens entered plea agreements on a lesser charge of aggravated sexual battery. As a result, the judge placed both on supervised probation. He required the younger one to attend intense therapy with a sex offender counselor to come up with a treatment plan, according to court documents. He ordered the other to undergo a pyschosexual assessment, court records show. In addition, the judge told both to stay away from the victim and his family.
Less than two weeks later, the younger defendant, the one in pyscho therapy, appeared on the sports page of the Kingsport Times-News for helping Gate City win a baseball game after his coach promoted him to the varsity team, calling him “a coach’s dream.” The following week, our News Channel 11 cameras filmed him and the newspaper again noted his efforts for helping his team win its first playoff game that night. The newspaper noted him one more time the next day in a losing effort in the semi-finals.
“It made me mad,” the victim said. “They get to enjoy life while I have to almost suffer from what they did to me.”
While the athlete told the Kingsport Times-News he was having fun playing baseball and his coach shared his excitement that the teen would be back for two more years, the victim says he received a different kind of welcome when he returned to his school months prior.
“Kids were bullying me and they were calling me names,” he said. “My mom, she’s cried. Even dad’s cried. It’s impacted my whole entire family.”
After only a few days at school he says he left for the year.
“I have a teacher that comes to my house and they call it homebound,” he said.
So why did the Scott County Public Schools allow both of his abusers to stay in school and on the baseball team? After all, the district code of conduct says sex offenses may lead to suspension, exclusion from activities and expulsion and off-campus felonies are subject to corrective action. The district also expects its athletes to uphold ethics and integrity both in and out of school, according to the code of conduct.
It turns out, on the first day of the playoffs the school district admits a concerned caller reached out to administration about students on the baseball team.
“School administration received a call on approximately May 24, 2016 with concerns about students on the baseball team,” Personnel Supervisor Jason Smith said. “Administration followed up on those concerns, but was unable to obtain confirmation at that time.”
Beyond that, the superintendent told us the juvenile court clerk never gave the district formal notice as required by Virginia Code. The law requires clerks to provide written notice to the superintendent within 15 days of a conviction.
“The school division did not receive notice as outlined in Section 16.1-305.1 of the Code of Virginia,” Superintendent John Ferguson said in a statement.
Juvenile and Domestic Relations Clerk Karen Hood declined to explain her actions on-camera, but off-camera admitted she failed to notify the school district, which was the result of an oversight.
“That is my fault,” Hood said. “I did not realize the (computer) system didn’t generate a notice to the school board. That won’t happen again.”
15 days from May 4 was May 19, which was just days before the playoffs. Hood admitted it wasn’t until early August, after News Channel 11 got involved, that she provided the information required by state law.
According to state records, Virginia lawmakers amended that law in 1994, which was Del. Kilgore’s first year in the House of Delegates. Incidentally, state records reveal he supported the amendment.
“Some people are going to say, ‘Should they have been playing baseball?'” we asked him.
Scott County Public Schools Superintendent released the following statement on August 2:
“Since being notified by WJHL, our school division has worked diligently to investigate these matters. It is my understanding that this occurred off of school property. Furthermore, the School division did not receive notice as outlined in Section 16.1-305.1 of the Code of Virginia. Now that we have obtained the case dispositions, available court records, and determined the facts and surrounding circumstances for each case, we will take appropriate action. Again, because this is a student matter, we are unable to comment any further at this time.”
“I don’t know what the school policy is on charging, whether you’re innocent until proven guilty, but once the case was heard then I think 15 days, so taking it close to the end of the year, but I understand where you’re coming from,” Kilgore said.
The victim’s mother says she alerted the school about the situation in May, but the message never hit home until now. The day after we started asking questions, a public records request reveals the school superintendent emailed Kilgore the district’s student conduct policy. Days later, in a statement, the superintendent told us after we notified administrators about the crime, the district worked “diligently” to investigate the situation and promised to take appropriate action, but wouldn’t go into specifics.
“Since being notified by WJHL, our school division has worked diligently to investigate these matters,” Ferguson said in a statement. “It is my understanding that this occurred off of school property…Now that we have obtained the case dispositions, available court records, and determined the facts and surrounding circumstances for each case, we will take appropriate action. Again, because this is a student matter, we are unable to comment any further at this time.”
According to Kilgore, one of the teens played football for Gate City. He says the district removed him from the football team earlier this month. Meanwhile, he says the family is waiting to hear about possible other action. Kilgore says, at the moment, he’s not sure if they’ll be on the baseball team in the spring or if they’re even allowed back at school.
As for the victim, he says he’s ready to move forward. In fact, the child plans on returning to his school this year.
“I try to be normal,” he said. “As normal as I possibly can. I’m not going to let this hold me back. I want to move on with my life.”