W. Virginia AG: Middle school concealed alleged sex assaults, protected suspects

Story highlights

  • The attorney general of West Virginia has taken on the case of two seventh-grade girls
  • The girls allege they were sexually assaulted by two classmates during the school year
  • The AG says local officials worked to protect the accused and punish their accusers
  • The accused are relatives of school system employees, the attorney general says
The legacy of the Hatfields vs. the McCoys looms large in Mingo County, West Virginia.
Now, in the same mountainous county along the Kentucky state line where blood was spilled and lives were lost in the famed feud nearly a century ago, two new sides are squaring off over serious allegations of repeated sexual assault on two schoolgirls by two male classmates. And there are claims of sham investigations and "punishment" that in one case allegedly amounted to denying the accused an ice-cream break.
The case moved behind closed doors Friday at the Mingo County courthouse, where two school district officials and four faculty members made their first appearance in a courtroom for a hearing a week after the state's top lawyer accused them in a civil complaint of concealing alleged sexual abuse at a Mingo County middle school.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey filed a request for a civil injunction last week in which he alleges that two female students were victims of sexual assaults over the course of the year at the hands of two seventh-grade boys. According to the filing, abuse of the two 13-year-old Burch Middle School students, also in the seventh grade, took place on multiple occasions between November 2012 and May 2013.
The attorney general says in the filing that two boys would work in concert: one would restrain their victim while the other groped her "breasts, genitalia (and) buttocks."
Most of the alleged attacks Morrisey outlines in the filing took place at the school, except for a class trip to the state capital of Charleston, where one of the girls said she was raped.
Names of neither the boys nor the girls have been released, but the attorney general's court filing identifies the suspects as Juvenile 1 and Juvenile 2, and states they are both relatives of employees of the Mingo County school system.
Mingo County Prosecuting Attorney Teresa Maynard told CNN that she first learned of the investigation last week after Morrisey filed the request for an injunction. She said she met with the attorney general on Friday and explained to him that her office must be part of the investigation from now on -- and it didn't take her very long to show that she meant it: Maynard filed juvenile charges against both of the boys on Friday. She would not divulge what those charges were.
Maynard has not brought charges against any other parties, but the attorney general did name a handful of teachers and administrators as defendants in the court filing requesting a civil injunction -- which is not to be confused with the filing of criminal charges.
Attorney General Morrisey declined to be interviewed for this article, but West Virginia State Police Public Information Officer Lt. Mike Baylous explained that a civil injunction -- like the one requested by Morrisey in this case -- is an "extreme" court order that is made for the purpose of restraining the defendant -- or in this case, the defendants - from pursuing any conduct that amounts to harassment.
The attorney general made the case in his complaint that he has ample reason to believe that a state investigation would be stymied. As abhorrent as the allegations are themselves, Morrissey says they are not why he is taking this action; he's doing that because, he said "the overall handling of the allegations was inherently flawed and tainted with conflicts of interest."
That may seem like an understatement in a 32-page complaint that details allegations of disappearing evidence, connected suspects, sham investigations, deceitful and vengeful administrators, and refusals to cooperate with law enforcement.
Mingo County, going back to the Hatfield-McCoy days, has earned an unsavory reputation, thanks to nepotism, cronyism and a spectacular history of vendettas and public corruption.
In the last few years Mingo's sheriff was assassinated, its only circuit judge and prosecutor both went to prison on conspiracy charges in an unrelated case, and a county commissioner pleaded guilty to extortion. Just this week, the mayor of the county's largest city pleaded guilty to lying to federal authorities in a workers' compensation case.
Not even the Mingo school system seems to be immune from controversy. Court filings cite repeated examples of school officials allegedly protecting the accused in the seventh-grade sexual assault allegations, and claim that "a relative of (one of the boys) was directly involved in the handling and investigation into the allegations against (him), and involved in decisions relating to the discipline/punishment of the male juvenile offenders."
That investigation, according to Morrisey's injunction request, was "ineffective, non-existent, (and) designed (to) illicit contradictory and/or less incriminating statements from the female victims."
When punishment was doled out, the attorney general characterized it as a mockery. In one instance, for example, a school official "'disciplined' (the boys) for the alleged abuse of a female student by denying them a break for ice cream during statewide testing," the attorney general's court filing said.
The attorney general says the problems go beyond alleged efforts to sweep the accusations under the carpet. Morrisey's complaint said Burch Middle School teachers and administrators "threatened (the girls) with discipline" to dissuade them from coming forward, and the alleged victims were retaliated against when they did.
The day after one of the alleged victims alerted state police in April 2014, she was written up for bullying. Morrisey wrote that the "bullying" was actually the victim blocking her Facebook account from the niece of a teacher at the school. The next day she was written up again, this time for "insubordination," according to the filing.
The attorney general alleges that the other victim says she was targeted as well: the injunction request states that a high-ranking Burch official "retaliated against (her) by removing her from her classes and placing her in other classes that were below her academic level."
When West Virginia State Police showed up at Burch on April 24, the principal refused to allow a trooper to take a statement from a possible third victim, according to the court filing. The principal "went an additional step further and informed the State Trooper investigating the alleged sexual abuse at the school that he could no longer take statements from students at Burch Middle School because it 'disrupted the learning environment.'"
CNN tried repeatedly to reach the teachers and administrators at Burch Middle School named in the filing for comment on the allegations, but multiple e-mails and phone messages were never returned.
Jason Long, the attorney representing the Mingo County Board of Education and the Mingo County school superintendent, released a statement that said "the Mingo County Board of Education is committed to working with the attorney general's office to resolve this investigation in a timely manner. The hearing today gathered everyone involved and opened a dialogue. We take these allegations very seriously. Be assured our goal is to create a safe learning environment for all students of Mingo County."