It’s been more than a year since Dr. Ken LeCain took over as principal at Statesboro High School.
LeCain was appointed acting principal May 9, 2014, following the arrest of then principal Dr. Marty Waters on a misdemeanor charge of failure to report child abuse in a timely manner. State Court Judge Gary Mikell dismissed the charge against Waters in January. But the Board of Education took the “acting” part of LeCain’s title away in March, naming him principal.
“We’ve had some challenges as we move past that very difficult issue,” LeCain said. “Our mission is to educate these young women and men in helping prepare them to earn a diploma and for their next step in life. I think we are past the distraction and back to focusing on our mission.”
In the aftermath of his arrest, Waters resigned his position as principal at Statesboro, which he had held since 2005. He has not been in a classroom since, and the Georgia Professional Standards Commission revoked his education certificate. Waters is appealing the commission’s decision.
Waters’ attorney, Dan Snipes, said State Court Solicitor Joey Cowart took the proper action in recommending that Judge Mikell dismiss the case against Waters. Snipes said he believes Waters was caught up in a “rush to judgment” due to the egregious actions of Tyler Crowder.
Crowder was a paraprofessional and assistant coach for girls’ soccer at Statesboro High from 2012 until he was arrested on April 30, 2014 on a sexual assault charge. He pled guilty in February to sexual misconduct with a high school student and is currently serving a 15-month sentence in a probation detention center. Although he was charged in only one case, police questioned seven female students at Statesboro High who said Crowder inappropriately contacted them in a social setting or via social media.
In recommending dismissal of the charge against Waters, 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."
The Statesboro Police Department’s Maj. Rob Bryan disagreed with Cowart’s decision in January, and he had not changed his mind when interviewed in late April. Bryan, who was a lieutenant last year, was part of the Crowder and Waters investigations led by Det. Sgt. James Winskey and Det. Sgt. Patrick Harrelson.
Cowart’s decision to recommend dismissal “was surprising,” Bryan said. “Everyone should know that ultimately the prosecutor has the discretion to make that call. I do feel with this particular case there was enough evidence to move forward with prosecuting the case and then either let the judge or jury make the ultimate decision whether to convict or not to convict.”
The case against Waters comes down to when he had reasonable cause to believe Crowder crossed the line into an abusive relationship with the student in question, in accordance with statute 19-7-5 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A). The statute defines an abusive relationship in broad terms, including sexual abuse of a child (under 18), which is defined as a person employing, using, persuading, inducing, enticing or coercing any minor who is not that person's spouse to engage in sexual acts.
In his police interview and sworn affidavit, Waters said that he had never been given enough information about Crowder’s actions to meet the standards of the statute and make a report. He said he was unaware of the seriousness of the incidents until Crowder was arrested on April 30, 2014.
But the police investigation, Bryan said, found Waters should have had reasonable cause to believe Crowder was in an abusive relationship with the student following a meeting on March 25, 2014 with teachers Elizabeth Driggers and Brian Thomas and counselors Linda Evans and Tiffany Weathers.
In her written witness statement to police, Weathers said a student “casually stated” to her sometime in February that Tyler Crowder had sex with a student. The student supplying the information said she had heard it as gossip and did not know if it was true, Weathers told police. Weathers said she told lead counselor Linda Evans about what the student told her, but since it was heard through third and fourth parties, it was not reported further.
Weathers said she heard nothing more until the morning of March 25, when Thomas, who is also head coach of the girls’ soccer team, told Driggers that Crowder had sex with a Statesboro High student. Weathers then called Evans, Thomas and Driggers into her office, and Evans called Waters into her office where “we reported the incident to him,” Weathers told police.
In her interview with Det. Sgt. Harrelson on May 8, Weathers said that during the March 25 meeting, “it was made perfectly clear to Dr. Waters that Mr. Crowder was having an inappropriate relationship with (the student). Ms. Weathers also stated that she could tell by Dr. Waters’ reaction, that he knew the situation was serious,” Harrelson reported.
In his report, Harrelson said he asked Thomas to “clarify the information that was relayed to Dr. Waters in regards to Mr. Crowder and (the student) at the March 25 meeting. Mr. Thomas stated that during the conversation, Dr. Waters was advised that Tyler Crowder and (the student) were involved in a relationship. Mr. Thomas stated that it was perfectly clear to everyone that an inappropriate relationship was taking place.”
Affidavit from Waters
However, in Waters’ interview with the police detectives, he said he was never told of the extent of Crowder’s relationship with the student.
In a sworn affidavit, Waters said:
“Tiffany Weathers proceeded to tell me that another student had reported rumors of an inappropriate relationship between Tyler Crowder and the (student). I do not ever remember sex or intercourse being mentioned. I do remember inappropriate texts and comments being discussed. Ms. Weathers repeated several times that the information was from a reliable student, but the student acknowledged the rumor was third and fourth hand information. I stated to all who were present that I would report the allegations to of inappropriate conduct to Dr. Kevin Judy … At this time, I had no knowledge that staff members in the March 25, 2014 meeting had received prior reports of the inappropriate relationship between Mr. Crowder and the student.”
In an interview with Det. Sgts. Winskey and Harrelson on May 7, Dr. Kevin Judy, who was assistant superintendent for human resources on March 25, and to whom Waters would have reported an incident of possible sexual abuse, said Waters called him that day and told Judy he had heard rumors of some inappropriate remarks Crowder may have made with a student.
Judy told police he instructed Waters to investigate further to discover the nature of the remarks, if any, and report back to him if further action against Crowder was needed. Also, Judy said Waters asked if he should talk to Crowder directly. Judy said that would be the right thing to do. He told police he heard nothing more from Waters until April 30, 2014, when Waters told him Crowder had a sexual relationship with a student and was arrested later that day.
Waters said he met with Crowder on April 1 or 2 after getting permission from Judy and asked Crowder directly if there was any truth to rumors that he was in an inappropriate relationship with a former student or whether he had sent text messages or had any contacts with students outside of school. Crowder denied any inappropriate relationship or any texts or any contacts with students, Waters stated.
“It was third and fourth hand information; innuendo and rumor,” Snipes said. “He spoke with Crowder, who denied the allegations. He had his counselors attempt on numerous occasions to contact the girl in question and her family to ask about Crowder, to no avail. (Waters) could not report what he did not know.”
Police stand by case
Police believe, however, that during the March 25 meeting Waters was given reasonable cause that Crowder was in an abusive relationship with the student and, therefore, was required by statute, as a mandatory reporter, to report within 24 hours the abuse to his superiors or the Department of Children and Family Services or the police. Since he did not meet that responsibility, he appeared to be in violation of the statute and guilty of the misdemeanor of failure to report child abuse, Bryan said.
“(We had a strong case with) the multiple witnesses from the Statesboro High School staff,” Bryan said “(We had a strong case with) the lengthy interviews and written statements that were made by those staff members. You have multiple staff members that during their interviews – it’s the same information that’s being relayed, the fact when Mr. Waters received that information and then what it was that was relayed, and even the interview with Mr. Crowder himself on past talks he had with Mr. Waters on other incidents that he’d been counseled on.”
Also, Bryan said investigators are “confident Waters did not convey any information about Crowder to his superiors prior to April 30.”
“Everyone who could have been reported to or could have passed information along was interviewed in depth,” Bryan said. “If there would have been any evidence showing that, we would have referred criminal charges there also. But from everything we’ve got through the interviews and everything through the case, it appears that it really stopped with Marty Waters, that what was relayed to him was not relayed further up. There’s no evidence that we have to show otherwise.”
Snipes also reiterated his comments after the January dismissal about the confusing nature of the statute governing mandatory reporting.
“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,” he said. “The lack of clarity created confusion for the educators involved in this case and made the prosecution of the case extremely difficult."
Nonetheless, Bryan said the police do not believe the statute was confusing in the Waters case.
“We didn’t see any confusion at all. We believed it to be black and white,” Bryan said. “There are things that you do have to look into when looking at a prosecution and a statute such as the case law; who is a mandatory reporter? Who does it need to be reported to? We felt that we followed up on all those things and had a clear picture and it was a clear violation of the law.
“We didn’t take this case lightly,” Bryan said. “We didn’t just go, ‘That’s what the statute says,’ and move forward. We did a lot of research on this to make sure we were making the correct calls.”
Snipes said Waters could not comment on the incident because he is awaiting an administrative hearing with the Georgia Attorney General’s office appealing the Georgia Standards Commission’s ruling to revoke his education certificate.
Jim Healy may be reached at (912) 489-9402.