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Charge against former Statesboro High principal dismissed
Not sufficient evidence to convict on failure to report child abuse charge
Dr. Martin "Marty" Waters

Bulloch County State Court Judge Gary Mikell dismissed a case against former Statesboro High School Principal Dr. Martin "Marty" Waters just before the trial was scheduled to start Monday.

Mikell ruled the case, in which Waters was charged with failure to report child abuse, dismissed after Bulloch County Solicitor-General Joey Cowart recommended the motion to dismiss, stating that there was not enough evidence to earn a conviction.

Following the arrests of two assistant coaches in separate cases in which each was accused of sexual misconduct with a female student, Waters was charged with failure to report the alleged abuse in a timely and proper manner. Police said the victims were different students and that the cases are not connected.

In a nolle prosequi motion filed Monday afternoon in the Bulloch County Clerk of Courts' Office, Cowart stated: "Upon review of this case and all attendant circumstances ... while there was sufficient evidence (probable cause) to support the arrest by the Statesboro Police Department and initial prosecution of the defendant ... after further review of this case, along with the statute the defendant is charged with violating, there does not appear to be sufficient evidence to convict the defendant by proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knowingly and willfully failed to report the underlying incident."

Waters was charged with the misdemeanor May 9. In the charge, he was accused of failing to report in a timely manner information he allegedly received that one of two assistant coaches, both charged with sexual misconduct with students, had had inappropriate contact with a female student.

Employment status unchanged

Later that month, the Bulloch County Board of Education approved a list of contract renewals for school principals that did not include Waters' name. After that vote, Waters resigned as the Statesboro High principal.

The dismissal of Waters' case does not change the school system's decision not to employ Waters for the current school year, Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson said Monday. He noted that his decision not to offer Waters a new contract had been an employment decision, while the court case is a separate matter.

"It doesn't affect my decision at all, because my decision is independent of the court system's decision," Wilson said.

When asked if there was a possibility that Waters could be offered his job as SHS principal back or given another job with the school system, Wilson said, "The circumstances that led to his nonrenewal and his subsequent resignation have not changed."

Dr. Ken LeCain, previously an assistant principal, was appointed acting principal May 9. Wilson and the school board took no further action to hire a permanent principal, and LeCain continues to lead the school as an acting principal.

"Statesboro High School has had a good year and is moving forward," Wilson added Monday. "Great things are beginning to happen over there. We're very pleased with Dr. LeCain's leadership and the spirit shown by the Statesboro High School staff."

Assistant coaches face charges

Statesboro police said Waters had known since March about suspected child sexual abuse between assistant girls soccer coach Jeffrey Tyler Crowder, 25, and a 16-year-old female student.

Crowder was arrested April 30 and charged with felony sexual assault, two days after police were given information about an inappropriate relationship. He was granted a conditional bond in July, which requires him until the case is closed to live with his mother, not break any laws, post a $30,000 cash or property bond and not set foot in Bulloch County unless attending court hearings.

Crowder faces an upcoming hearing Jan 16. A trial date has not yet been set, Bulloch County Clerk of Courts Heather Banks McNeal said.

A second coach, Luke Edward Parks, 26, faces similar charges in an unrelated incident that took place about the same time as the alleged incident involving Crowder. Parks has not yet been indicted.

Mikell dismissed Waters' case without any court-ordered conditions, but Waters had already voluntarily agreed to a course regarding reporting suspected child abuse, Cowart stated.

"While not a factor in reaching (the decision to dismiss the case), the defendant has agreed to complete a course regarding the reporting requirement that he was charged with violating," Cowart stated in the nolle prosequi motion.

Waters thanks community

Waters chose not to comment regarding the matter Monday, instead having his attorney, Dan Snipes, issue a statement.

"Marty Waters wants to thank the numerous members of the community and employees of the Bulloch County Board of Education who have stood behind him and refused to rush to judgment as this ordeal unfolded," Snipes stated. "Marty is especially thankful that Bulloch County Solicitor General Joey Cowart displayed the courage to dismiss the charges."

The ordeal has taken a toll on the Waters family, Snipes said.

"Today is not a celebration," Snipes said. "Too many people have been hurt by the events surrounding this case. Today is an affirmation that our judicial process works.

"It is our understanding that Mr. Cowart dismissed the charges against Mr. Waters after considering a number of factors," Snipes continued in his statement. "Certainly, the statute at issue, O.C.G.A. § 19-7-5, is a poorly drafted law. This statute has confusing standards for when a report is required; when the time period to report begins for a case where, like here, rumors and innuendo are the only knowledge of an allegation of abuse; and when criminal responsibility attaches for any failure to report. The lack of clarity created confusion for the educators involved in this case and made the prosecution of the case extremely difficult."

The statute the attorneys referenced says in part: "An oral report shall be made immediately, but in no case later than 24 hours from the time there is reasonable cause to believe a child has been abused, by telephone or otherwise and followed by a report in writing, if requested, to a child welfare agency providing protective services, as designated by the Department of Human Services, or, in the absence of such agency, to an appropriate police authority or district attorney. If a report of child abuse is made to the child welfare agency or independently discovered by the agency, and the agency has reasonable cause to believe such report is true or the report contains any allegation or evidence of child abuse, then the agency shall immediately notify the appropriate police authority or district attorney."

Cowart told the Statesboro Herald Monday he came to his decision after lengthy hours reviewing the case and having a conversation with Atlantic Judicial District Attorney Tom Durden regarding a similar case in McIntosh County.

"Recently, the District Attorney's office for the Atlantic Judicial Circuit dismissed a very similar case against the McIntosh County Board of Education superintendent," Snipes said in his statement.

In that case, according to several media outlets, the district superintendent and assistant superintendent and the principal of McIntosh Academy were arrested on charges of failure to report child abuse. That case stemmed from a former teacher who was charged with sexually abusing students at the school, according to the reports.

The media reports did not indicate that charges were dismissed, but WSAV-TV reported Saturday that the McIntosh County Board of Education voted to dismiss the assistant superintendent and principal and accepted the superintendent's resignation.

"This case represents an opportunity to make all educators in Bulloch County more aware of the reporting requirements for suspected child abuse, even when the suspected abuse is based on nothing more than rumors or hearsay. Dr. Waters has been a career educator and advocate for Bulloch County students. He looks forward to the opportunity to continue to work as an educator."
Snipes' statement on Waters' behalf was read to Wilson, but the superintendent did not respond to it directly.

"I do wish him well in his endeavors," Wilson said. "It's a very unfortunate situation."

The arrest also has been reported to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, which investigates complaints that can affect educators' certifications. Wilson said he was not aware of the status of the PSC investigation.

Staff writer Al Hackle contributed to this report.

Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.



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