Five officials at a private Christian academy in Texas are facing felony charges over accusations they failed to notify authorities after a ninth-grader reported being sexually assaulted by an older student during a hazing incident on “freshman initiation day.”
The three administrators and two athletic coaches at Midland Christian School are identified in an arrest warrant affidavit obtained by The Daily Beast as Superintendent Jared Owen Lee, secondary school Principal Dana Elizabeth Ellis, athletic director Gregory Neal McClendon, assistant secondary school principal Matthew David Counts, and baseball coach Barry Lee Russell.
“We are motivated in all facets by our faith in Jesus Christ, attempting to serve as a reflection of God’s unconditional love for all people,” Midland Christian’s website proclaims. “We seek to honor the Lord in all that we do by operating Midland Christian School in a manner consistent with Biblical principles. It is important to us that every word and deed engaged in by Midland Christian School, its employees, representatives, volunteers, and students be consistent with and in furtherance of Midland Christian School’s religious purposes: both publicly and privately.”
But the five school officials apparently did not live up to those tenets following the alleged January attack, which was first exposed by the Midland Reporter-Telegram.
On Jan. 28, a detective with the Midland Police Department was notified about a “possible sexual assault of a child” that had occurred eight days earlier after baseball practice at Midland Christian.
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In an interview with authorities, the unnamed victim said he had just stepped into the locker room to get changed when the lights were turned off. Someone said it was “freshman initiation day,” and a 10th-grader began hitting the ninth-grader.
The ninth-grader’s hands were pinned down, and he was flipped over onto his back, the affidavit states. He was then sexually assaulted with a baseball bat as other students looked on and cheered, it says.
The next day, the freshman student told school officials what had happened. And then, nothing.
“The two of them see each other every day as they are on the same baseball team,” the affidavit goes on.
On Feb. 11, police investigators showed up at Midland Christian and spoke with Ellis, the principal of the secondary school. She told cops that she was aware of the incident and that it had been documented. However, Ellis said Lee, the school superintendent, was the only one with access to the files.
When Ellis told Lee about the horrific incident, Lee ordered McClendon and Counts to “conduct an ‘investigation’ into the incident instead of notifying law enforcement or another state agency,” the affidavit explains.
But when Lee contacted police on Feb. 14, he refused to answer any questions or provide the documentation to which Ellis had referred, demanding that cops get a search warrant.
The warrant was granted and executed the same day.
During the search, investigators were given access to “notes” written by McClendon and Counts that documented the incident, according to the affidavit.
In emails between all five that were reviewed by police, “it was made very clear that a sexual assault had occurred, and the school had a duty to report,” the affidavit continues, noting that “there were multiple emails exchanged,” and that “several of the administrators refused to report the incident.”
The five were arrested Wednesday and released on $5,000 bond. It is still unclear whether they have retained lawyers to speak on their behalf.
On Thursday, police arrested a student involved in the alleged attack, authorities announced. No further details have been released, and the student, who is a juvenile, has not been identified.
“Our school officials have, and will continue to, cooperate with law enforcement and their investigation,” the president of Midland Christian’s board of trustees told the Reporter-Telegram in a statement. “Currently, we have qualified acting administrators to supervise the campus, oversee student activities, support faculty, and maintain the day-to-day operation of the school. The physical, spiritual, and emotional safety of our students is the most important responsibility we bear as educators and one we take seriously. We appreciate the support and prayers of our Midland Christian parents, faculty, staff, and students as we continue leading, building, and equipping for Christ.”
The allegations in the Midland Christian case are disturbingly similar to those laid out in a 2020 civil suit filed by a student at a public school in the Midland suburb of Greenwood. Administrators there stand accused of covering up repeated sexual assaults of a student athlete by his teammates, according to court filings reviewed by The Daily Beast, which say the school not only tried to sweep the alleged assaults under the rug, but that it retaliated by “discontinuing a longstanding business relationship” with the victim’s father. The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in September.
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