CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- A judge ruled Monday that there was enough probable cause to charge two Tennessee high school basketball coaches and their athletic director after the three men failed to report the sexual abuse of players by their teammates.
Ooltewah High School head basketball coach Andre Montgomery, assistant coach Karl Williams and athletic director Allard "Jesse" Nayadley each pleaded not guilty. The case now goes before a grand jury.
"Another court may determine they acted ... completely appropriate," Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Robert Philyaw said. "That's not what I'm asked to do today. I'm asked to determine whether probable cause was met, and that's the ruling of the court."
Three members of the Ooltewah High School basketball team, all juveniles at the time of the incident, face charges of aggravated rape and aggravated assault after they allegedly attacked a 15-year-old teammate and sodomized him with a pool cue during a pre-Christmas basketball tournament in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The alleged attack happened in a cabin the team had rented for its Dec. 19-23 trip.
The three players charged, who haven't been named because they are juveniles, have a hearing scheduled for March 15.
The alleged victim, a freshman on the team, had to undergo emergency surgery to repair several internal organs, according to a police report of the incident obtained by Outside The Lines.
The Hamilton County District Attorney General's Office filed an affidavit last week that said a total of "four freshmen basketball players were subjected to assaultive behavior, including but not limited to being struck with pool cues, and also these four freshman basketball players were subjected to apparent sexual assault."
The affidavit noted that Tennessee law required the school officials to report any suspected child sexual abuse to the state Department of Children's Services, the sheriff or police chief where the children reside or the juvenile court with jurisdiction over them.
Lawyers representing the school officials noted the ambiguity of the statute and said their clients were being unfairly singled out. They also pointed out that most of the witnesses at Monday's hearing said the Ooltewah coaches and athletic director had acted appropriately.
"They didn't try to hide anything, and in fact, they rendered aid to an individual who needed medical attention," said Curtis Bowe, the attorney for Montgomery.
Johnny Houston, the lawyer representing the assistant coach, Williams, said his client was a volunteer who hadn't received any training as to whom he needed to contact in this type of situation.
"These guys were completely cooperative. Their first thought was to get this kid to the hospital," Houston told ESPN after Monday's hearing. "They have been so maligned, and they're just decent people trying to make a difference with these young boys."
"I don't think there's any way you can find fault with these three men in how they reacted to a terrible situation at a Christmas tournament," said Lee Davis, the lawyer representing Nayadley. Davis pointed out that his client reported the incident to school administrators on the day he was made aware of the incident.
Among the witnesses who said the school officials handled the incident properly was Rodney Burns, a Gatlinburg police detective.
"What this case actually is, is much smaller than what it's been blown up to be," Burns said. "This was something stupid that kids do that shouldn't have been done, but it wasn't done for sexual gratification or really sexual in nature. It was an assault, really. It just happened that the end result fit the definition of aggravated rape."
The testimony from Burns appeared to be inconsistent with a police report he compiled in the hours after the alleged attack. According to that report, which was obtained by Outside The Lines, two 16-year-old sophomores and a then-17-year-old senior member of the team locked the door to a downstairs bedroom and overpowered a freshman teammate, wrestling him onto the bed. All three of the teens admitted to their roles in the attack, according to the report.
One of the 16-year-olds told police he held the freshman down on the bed by lying across his back, while the other 16-year-old held his teammate down by the hips. The 17-year-old then pressed a pool cue against the freshman's clothing with so much force that it broke through the teen's clothing and penetrated his rectum, according to the police report. The 17-year-old told an investigating officer that he "accidentally" used too much force, and he later described the alleged assault as "horseplay."
When confronted with the injured teen, neither Montgomery nor Williams called police. Gatlinburg police were ultimately called by hospital officials, who examined the alleged victim.
In January, Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston told OTL that the coaches found the 15-year-old freshman player covered in blood, urine and feces.
Burns testified in court Monday that there was no blood at the scene when he arrived in the cabin and suggested that reports to the contrary were inaccurate. Burns also testified that a previous report, which said the tip of the pool cue was surgically removed from the alleged victim's bladder, was also not true.
"It was not a piece of the pool stick," Burns said. "It was actually a piece of his [the alleged victim's] clothing."
The police report, compiled and signed by Burns, noted that the clothing the alleged victim was wearing was "soaked with urine and fecal matter." Burns also noted in his report: "The tip of the pool cue was recovered from his [the alleged victim's] bladder. The tip of the pool stick was placed into evidence at University of Tennessee Medical Center."
Burns said his interviews with Ooltewah players revealed a history of hazing involving the basketball team. Burns testified that one of the defendants, a senior, told him he had also been assaulted with a pool cue by teammates years earlier on a trip to Hilton Head, South Carolina.
"He told me it was tradition for the freshmen to be hazed or bullied," Burns said. "He said, 'The same thing happened to me.'"
Ooltewah principal Jim Jarvis testified, "We have never had issues with hazing or bullying to my knowledge."
The fallout from the scandal involving the suburban Chattanooga school has been far-reaching. Williams, Montgomery and Nayadley have all been suspended without pay. Judge Philyaw ordered the three men to be booked within 30 days for failure to report child sexual abuse, a Class A Misdemeanor.
If convicted, the three can be fined no more than $2,500, but the cost to their professional reputations would be far greater, as it could impact their futures as coaches, educators or administrators.
"It's not about the character of these defendants, which has taken a hit the last several days," Judge Philyaw said Monday. "These three didn't follow the law in this case, but there's no indication they're terrible people."
Information from the Associated Press is included in this report.