FIRST ON 3: Emails show when and how Smith responded to Ooltewah - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

FIRST ON 3

FIRST ON 3: Emails show when and how Smith responded to Ooltewah rape

Posted: Updated:
OOLTEWAH, TN (WRCB) -

Email records show Hamilton County Superintendent Rick Smith did not inform the school board about the Ooltewah rape until after Channel 3 started asking questions of top officials.

In response to a open records request, Smith’s office released all emails he sent, received and deleted the week of the rape. The documents lay out a timeline of when Smith notified board members and how.

Channel 3 received a detailed tip at 12:19 p.m. December 24 about the Ooltewah assault at a Gatlinburg cabin. School Patrol reporter David Carroll immediately emailed Ooltewah Principal Jim Jarvis for confirmation.

Jarvis responded at 1:37 p.m, writing in an email, "David it is my understanding a violation of team policy did occur. It is currently under investigation and will be dealt with."

At 2:02 p.m. Jarvis forwarded Carroll's request for information to Assistant Superintendent Dr. Lee McDade, who forwarded the email to Superintendent Rick Smith at 3:49 p.m.

At 2:20 p.m. Rick Smith sent an email to all School Board members.

"I hope you are ready for Christmas,” Smith started the email. “Sorry to send you a work related message on Christmas Eve but I want to let you know of a serious matter involving Ooltewah High basketball students while out of town at a holiday basketball tournament. It has been reported that 3 players physically assaulted one of their teammates and are being investigated and may be charged. I don't have much information at this point but know that the victim was injured and required surgery. He is expected to fully recover. I will make you aware as additional information becomes available."

On December 28, school board member Rhonda Thurman wrote in an email to Smith and the board, in part, "I am deeply saddened, disturbed and disgusted by this incident and will not allow it to (be) swept under the rug because it happened over the holiday."

Donna Horn replied to Thurman's email in part, "I hope that in all fairness to the board that we hear a report about what actually transpired, responsible parties, adult and students, that were present at this tournament before the media does. Let's hope for a better year to come."

In the days to follow Horn’s email at least six school board members made public statements saying the situation was not be handled correctly and calling on Smith to share information. Multiple board members reported hearing details of the situation on Channel 3.

The Hamilton County District Attorney's office charged the school's basketball coach, assistant coach, and athletic director Thursday for not reporting the abuse of four members of the basketball team to the proper authorities. Smith says he learned through news reports that it was hospital officials who reported the abuse to police and not his staff.

Smith said in a press conference on Monday that no adults did anything wrong.

After news of the charges broke Thursday, Smith said the trio was aware of the policy and did not follow it.

Under Tennessee's mandatory reporter law, anyone who suspects child abuse is required to report it to DCS, a juvenile court judge, or the sheriff or police chief where the child lives. That includes school faculty and administration.

A DCS spokesperson told Channel 3 Friday it can't confirm what day it was made aware of the assault, citing an ongoing investigation.

Excluded Emails?

Channel 3 filed an open records request for all of Smith's emails between December 22 and December 28. The request, under Tennessee Open Records Law, included all sent, received and deleted emails from that time period.

After the Superintendent’s Office fulfilled the request, to include some 200 pages of emails, school board attorney Scott Bennett told Channel 3 some emails were withheld due to attorney-client privilege.  

According to the Tennessee Open Records Act, the custodian of a public record should provide a legal basis when it denies any part of a request.

When Channel 3 asked for an exact number of emails withheld, Bennett later apologized for the confusion. He said there were no emails withheld during the window of our request. 

Powered by Frankly