By Wayne Thomas, Staff Writer
Editor’s note: The following story contains details of an alleged sexual assault that may be disturbing to some readers.
Juvenile petitions for attempted aggravated rape have been issued against five Grundy County High School (GCHS) football players after they allegedly attempted to sexually assault another student in the football team’s field house on Wednesday morning.
Juvenile petitions are the equivalent of criminal charges against an adult defendant.
According to Grundy County Sheriff Clint Shrum, five GCHS male students between the ages of 14 and 17 allegedly sexually assaulted a 15-year-old freshman using the metal handle of a dust mop and recorded the incident on a cellphone.
Shrum said seven “participants,” not including the victim, were interviewed by police in the presence of their parents and GCHS Principal Deidre Helton. However, petitions were not issued against two of those students as investigators determined they were not in the room at the time the alleged assault occurred.
Shrum said all eight students met at the field house around 5 a.m. on Wednesday morning to work out.
“At some point, one of these participants, by their own admission, grabbed a dust mop with a metal handle and began tapping on the leg and the back of the victim, and then he passed the dust mop to another individual,” Shrum said. “It was then that the victim was placed on the floor with his arms pulled behind his back, his shorts were pulled down and the knee of one of the participants was placed across the back of the neck of the victim… Another participant held the victim’s legs while he and a third participant used a metal dust mop handle to assault the victim.”
While the victim was being assaulted, Shrum said another of the students present recorded the attack on his cellphone.
“That recording has been retrieved and in the recording you can clearly hear the victim shouting ‘stop, stop,’” the sheriff said, later adding that he could not disclose yet whether that video had been sent to anyone else since the phone had not yet been examined by the TBI technical services division.
Shrum said the student who recorded the assault admitted he had done so and turned his phone over to investigators.
“It’s disturbing; this is Grundy County, this is home so you think things are not supposed to happen like this at the house, but we’re dealing with it,” the sheriff said.
According to Shrum, the alleged assault was brought to the attention of school officials and the school resource officer by an assistant football coach who heard a rumor and felt it needed to be investigated.
Shrum said Casey Tate, the head coach of the football team, was not on on-site at the time of the incident.
“We don’t know where he was at; we have spoken to him,” Shrum said. “We have been told that none of those individuals had the coach’s permission to be at the field house at that hour.”
The sheriff’s department is still trying to determine how the students were able to get into the field house on Wednesday morning and Shrum said he could not confirm rumors that the students had been given the key by Tate.
“What we have been told is that the door was left open overnight…,” Shrum said. “We have also been told that one of the participants wedged the door open… We’re still investigating how they got access to the field house.”
Shrum said he does not anticipate filing charges against any additional individuals. However, he said, additional charges may be filed against the five students as the investigation continues.
Tate has been suspended following the incident, Grundy County Director of Schools Jessie Kinsey announced Thursday afternoon.
“GCHS Head Football Coach Casey Tate is suspended from coaching pending further investigation into new information provided today,” Kinsey said. “Assistant Coach Greg Brewer will assume the role of head coach of the football team during this suspension.”
The five students charged will appear in juvenile court before Judge Trey Anderson on Ouct. 16. They have been fitted with GPS monitors by judge’s order and are to remain on house arrest with their parents until their court dates on Monday.
In addition to the juvenile court petitions the petitioned students will face in juvenile court, Kinsey said the students will face ramifications at school and will be “punished according to the handbook,” the director of schools told The Grundy County Herald.
According to the GCHS handbook, punishment for a Level V offense – which includes sexual battery, attempted rape or rape – is immediate expulsion for a period of not less than one year.
Casey Tate’s background
Tate, a 1998 GCHS graduate and former lineman for the Yellow Jackets, was hired as the varsity head football coach in 2015 after serving as an assistant coach from 2011-2013 and middle school coach in 2014.
Tate’s suspension this week was not the first time the coach has found himself involved in controversy. Last December, the Grundy County School Board’s athletic committee considered replacing Tate as head coach, due to low turnout for the team. At the time, board member Rueben Newsome said the future of Tate’s employment in the district was under scrutiny because students and parents did not want to play for him and many had transferred to Marion County and South Pittsburgh high schools in order to play football for the coaches there. However, the board ultimately opted not to replace him and Tate was back at the helm of the program this season.
Field house has history of incidents
Wednesday marks the second time in two years GCHS students have been accused of inappropriate behavior in the field house.
On Sept. 11, 2015, Grundy County Sheriff Clint Shrum said his department was investigating a report of “inappropriate touching” involving four football players on a team Tate coached and a female equipment manager and whether explicit images from the incident had been transmitted.
According to The Grundy County Herald story from Sept. 24, 2015, the “sheriff also stated that rumors of rape are completely unfounded and not supported by any of the evidence in this case thus far.”
The Grundy County Sheriff’s Office turned its findings over to the district attorney’s office, which ultimately decided to not charge any of the students involved with a crime.