By Rachel Dove
CHARLESTON — Two Mingo County boys now face criminal charges stemming from an investigation of sexual-abuse allegations.
The Mingo County prosecutor’s office has filed juvenile petitions against the boys. Prosecuting Attorney Teresa Maynard told the Daily News that although she cannot provide specifics because the suspects are juveniles, the charges have been filed and the investigation by the West Virginia State Police is continuing.
Earlier this month, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey filed a lawsuit alleging officials at Burch Middle School brushed aside allegations that the boys had sexually abused female classmates. The lawsuit filed in Mingo County Circuit Court also alleges that school officials interfered with the state police investigation of the allegations.
Maynard said no adults have been charged but that the criminal investigation is continuing and those circumstances could change.
Morrisey claims in the lawsuit that administrators at the school retaliated against the girls for reporting the allegations. It says the abuses occurred during the 2012-13 school year and have continued to the present.
Defendants named to date in the suit include Melissa Webb, Deanna Maynard, Hester Keatley, Melvin Cunningham, Randy Keathley and the juvenile males, as well as their parents. Names of the boys and their parents were not released. The lawsuit asks the court to prevent further abuse and retaliation and bar defendants from interfering with the police investigation.
The suit states that the two male students have avoided criminal investigation, prosecution or meaningful punishment due to the actions and conduct of the administrators and teachers at Burch Middle School, as well as the Mingo County Board of Education. Both boys have close relatives employed with the school. Instead of a meaningful investigation by the school, upon information and belief, the female students have been disparately treated and punished, while the alleged male perpetrators have been “taken care of.”
The lawsuit goes on to say that the girls made sexual-abuse allegations to a guidance counselor in the spring of the 2012-13 school year that included acts of nonconsensual fondling, groping and molestation, “oftentimes forcible in nature.”
The suit says that on multiple occasions, the boys would “team up” and restrain one of the females, while groping her breasts, genitalia and/or buttocks. Some of the intrusion and groping was above the clothing and some of the intrusion and groping was underneath clothing.
One of the alleged attacks on “Female Victim 1” allegedly occurred on a school bus while on a school field trip to Charleston, in which the two juvenile defendants are said to have trapped her in a bus seat and subjected her to unwanted and illegal sexual abuse. She alleges that “forcible penetration occurred, which equals a charge of sexual assault in the second degree. During the course of the attack, the victim threatened to report the abuse to school administrators, to which one of the boys purportedly said to the other defendant, “Don’t worry, (your relative) will take care of us.”
The females, as well as their parents, allegedly were told by school administrators that the problem would be taken care of. It allegdly was not.
Last April 23, , a state police trooper went to Burch Middle School and requested the opportunity to take a statement from “Female Victim 2,” as well as another juvenile female. He reportedly was informed by Principal Melissa Webb that the third female was absent from school that day, but said he could speak with Female 2 if her parents consented. The principal left the room and, upon returning, reportedly announced she could not reach the parents. The trooper left the school and drove to Female Victim 2’s residence and found the mother without any difficulty. The mother called the school and gave her consent for the interview. The victim then gave her statement to the trooper.
The following day, after providing her testimony, it was reported to the trooper that school administrators had “wrote up Female Victim 2” with the student infraction of “bullying”. Upon information and belief, the “bullying” charge was based on Female Victim 2’s actions in allegedly “blocking her Facebook account” from the niece of a teacher at the school. Then, on May 25, the school administrators at Burch Middle wrote the female student up for yet another student infraction, alleging “insubordination,” for which she now faces additional discipline.
In November of 2013, within weeks after an attempt by “Female Victim 1’s” parents to obtain a copy of their daughter’s investigation file, the female student was charged by school officials with “engaging in deceitful conduct” and disciplined her, and allegedly threatenng her with expulsion. She reportedly also received multiple levels of punishment, including being forced to meet with school administrators on four separate occasions.
When the trooper returned to the school to interview a third juvenile female with her mother’s permission and in her mother’s presence, Webb is said to have refused to allow the trooper to take a statement and informed him that he “could no longer take statements from students at Burch Middle School because it disrupted the learning environment.”
The only “discipline” brought against the two male students by school administrators, according to the suit, was denying the boys a break for ice cream during the WESTEST, one day of out-of-school suspension, and one day of in-school suspension.