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AG: Mingo school covered up sexual abuse

By David Gutman, Staff writer

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has asked for a civil rights injunction against the Mingo County Board of Education, the county’ schools superintendent and administrators at Burch Middle School for allegedly failing to investigate allegations of sexual abuse and then retaliating against the two girls who reported the alleged abuse.

The girls, seventh-graders when the alleged abuse began in 2012, say they were restrained, grabbed and groped by two male students on the school bus and in the school’s computer lab.

One of the girls also says she was sexually assaulted by one of the boys during a school field trip to Charleston.

The filing in Mingo Circuit Court says that when the girls reported the abuse, they were “threatened with discipline and/or retaliated against by members of the Burch Middle School administration when each pursued punishment for the offenders.

“Every action taken by defendants was either to minimalize the allegations against the boys and/or to protect the alleged male juvenile perpetrators,” according to the filing, signed by Assistant Attorney General J. Robert Leslie.

Named in Morrisey’s filing are Melissa Webb, the principal of Burch Middle School in Delbarton; Deanna Maynard, the school’s vice principal; Hester Keatley, the school’s guidance counselor; Melvin Cunningham, a coach at the school; and Randy Keathley, superintendent of Mingo County Schools. Also listed as defendants are the Mingo County Board of Education, the two alleged attackers, who are not identified, and their parents.

Keathley said Thursday that he’d been out of the office and had not seen the court filing but that he had been told about it.

“We’re aware of the complaint that has been filed in the circuit court of Mingo County,” Keathley said. “Once the county has been formally served, we will respond accordingly and, finally, Mingo County Schools takes student safety seriously and remains committed to providing a secure environment to all students.”

Morrisey’s injunction essentially asks for the defendants to have no contact with the two girls or their families while the West Virginia State Police investigates.

The first alleged victim did not voluntarily report the abuse, the filing states, because of intimidation, fear and embarrassment.

During the alleged attack against the girl, one of the two boys allegedly told the other, “Don’t worry, [your relative] will take care of us,” the filing states.

Two other female students, who allegedly also were abused by the same two boys, told the guidance counselor, Keatley, about the alleged abuse of the first girl, the filing states.

That led to several phone calls between the girl’s mother and Jada Hunter, the principal at the time, the filing states.

Hunter, the filing states, did not inform the girl’s mother of the full extent of the alleged abuse and told her not to worry because Hunter had taken care of it. This led to a meeting with administrators and the alleged attackers’ parents, in which one boy’s father admitted the abuse allegations, the filing states.

Despite the admission, Cunningham, the coach, told the alleged victim that she could not prove anything because there were no witnesses, according to the filing. Cunningham allegedly threatened disciplinary action against the girl if she continued to complain, the filing states.

Hunter then told the girl’s parents that Cunningham was correct and said that if they did not call law enforcement, she would “take care of it,” the filing states.

Hunter and Webb, who was then vice principal, punished the two boys by denying them an ice cream break during administration of the WESTEST and giving them one day out-of-school and one day in-school suspensions, the filing states.

Mingo County Schools requires employees to report any disclosure of sexual abuse to law enforcement within 48 hours.

Keatley had the girl write three statements about the alleged attacks, the filing states. First, she wrote a statement against both boys, and then was asked to write separate statements against each boy. Two of those statements were lost, the filing states. Reportedly, the only one that could be found was the one against the boy whose father already had admitted to the allegations.

“The overall handling of the allegations was inherently flawed and tainted with conflicts of interest,” the filing states. “A relative of juvenile 2 was directly involved in the handling and investigation into the allegations against juvenile 2.”

The filing alleges not only a lack of investigation, but active retaliation by school administrators against the two alleged victims.

On April 23, the second girl was interviewed by a State Police trooper, the filing states.

The next day, the girl was given an infraction for “bullying,” allegedly for blocking a teacher’s niece from her Facebook account. The day after that, the girl was given an infraction for “insubordination.”

The filing also alleges that the first girl was removed from her classes and had her schedule changed so that she would not overlap with one of her alleged attackers. The alleged attacker did not have his schedule changed, the filing states.

A spokeswoman for the West Virginia Department of Education did not return a request for comment.

State Police Cpl. L.D. Hensley, of the Crimes Against Children Unit, is investigating the abuse allegations.

These are the most recent allegations of sexual abuse in Mingo County. In 2013, Hester Keatley’s son, James “Jimmy” Hiram Keatley II, agreed to give up his teaching certificate and resign as a math teacher and boys basketball and football coach at Matewan Middle School. In exchange, former Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury dismissed three counts of third-degree sexual abuse and one count of battery against him. Jimmy Keatley was investigated for allegations that he groped, kissed and made inappropriate comments to two female students in front of others.

Later in 2013, the State Police arrested a Burch Middle School teacher’s assistant and her husband, a custodian at Matewan Middle School, after they allegedly sent female students explicit sexual messages and videos. Justin Lee Wellman and Alandra Deseray Wellman, both 24, pleaded guilty to two counts of soliciting minors via computer. They will be eligible for parole in 2017, according to the state Division of Corrections.

Staff writer Travis Crum contributed to this report. Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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