Photo courtesy of Shannon Hahn/The Madison County Record
Audra Kimball, former Huntsville School District superintendent and current personnel and program compliance director, and former junior high school basketball coach Kaleb Houston have been summoned to appear for charges of failure to notify by mandated reporters in the first degree, according to Fourth Judicial Prosecuting Attorney Matt Durrett.
“These are the initial summons and citations issued” and that others may be forthcoming, Durrett said.
Huntsville High School Principal Roxanne Enix and Director of Athletics Tom McCollough remain under investigation.
Durrett said he could not offer any other comments regarding the cases as they remain ongoing.
Charges evolved from Title IX investigations in which school district administrators were alleged to have failed to immediately contact the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline after learning of allegations of player-on-player sexual abuse by members of the Huntsville Junior High School basketball team.
Arkansas law requires mandated reporters – which include teachers and school administrators – to notify the hotline if they have reasonable cause to believe that a child has been subjected to child maltreatment. Failure to report can be a Class A misdemeanor.
Timeline of hotline case
Feb. 9, 2021:
- High School Principal Roxanne Enix was informed of sexual-abuse allegations. Enix informed Director of Athletics Tom McCollough, who calls then Superintendent Audra Kimball about the allegations.
Feb. 22, 2021:
- An investigation begins.
- The School Resource Officer Monica Blair, an employee of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, is made aware of the allegations.
- Title IX Director Tonja McCone informs McCollough and Kimball that the allegations need to be handled under Title IX guidelines.
- Kimball tells then Board President Danny Thomas that she is going to have the school’s attorney “check on decisions as well.” Kimball assures Thomas that McCollough knew the allegations were serious.
Feb. 25, 2021:
- Kimball asks school attorney Charles Harwell via text, “Would you be available for a phone call about 2:45. We are dealing with a Title IX situation. This is Audra Kimball from Huntsville.”
- McCone receives the first Title IX complaint.
Feb. 26, 2021:
- The initial Title IX report is mailed to parents.
Feb. 27, 2021:
- The first hotline call is received.
March 2, 2021:
- Six hotline calls are received.
Sometime in March 2021:
- Kimball along with Enix and McCone call the hotline.
- In a text message to The Record, former Junior High School Basketball Coach Kaleb Houston denies knowing sexual assaults had allegedly taken place in the locker rooms for two years. “I had no idea that any of that was going on in the locker room,” he texts.
- A parent and son state in an affidavit that they reported sexual-abuse allegations to Houston, who told them he would take care of the situation. The son states he witnessed “sexual acts” performed by other boys.
- A criminal complaint regarding failure to call the hotline is filed.
- Citations are issued for Kimball and Houston to appear for failure to notify by a mandated reporter in the first degree.
A parent filed a criminal complaint on Oct. 22, 2021, against the administrators and coach. The case was initially closed in April, but after meeting with a family and learning new information, Durrett began investigating further.
“There’s nothing more important than the safety of our children and of our students,” said Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen, who represented Becky Nelle, who on behalf of her son, sued the district for Title IX violations.
“This should send a very strong message to the folks in Huntsville and also a strong message to other school districts around the state that when they have reports of sexual assault, they should immediately report as is required by law.
“But one more step needs to be taken. When sexual assaults are reported, the state needs to investigate allegations of sexual assault and both prongs of the mandated reporter law in Arkansas were violated in these matters,” McCutcheon said.
On Feb. 9, Enix was informed that players in the Huntsville basketball program had allegedly sexually abused teammates by placing their bare genitals and buttocks on players’ faces. Other players on the team were alleged to have physically restrained players being abused. Players called these acts “baptisms” and “bean-dipping.”
After learning about the allegations Feb. 9, Enix, who said she felt physically sick, called McCollough, who called Kimball.
On Feb. 22, the district began investigating the allegations with coaches, including Houston, and interviewing players. That night, former board President Danny Thomas also alerted Kimball to the allegations. In text messages obtained by The Record, Thomas and Kimball acknowledge the allegations as serious, with Thomas stating “if these parents wanted to get an attorney it’s a slam dunk I would think.”
Kimball let Thomas know that the district took the allegations “very serious.”
Three days later, Kimball texted Huntsville School District attorney Charles Harwell of Crouch, Harwell, Fryar and Ferner law firm, asking him if he would be available for a phone call. “We are dealing with a Title IX situation,” Kimball wrote.
“And when I spoke to our attorney [Harwell], that was one of the things I asked, ‘Do you think this should reported.’ And he said, ‘I think you have to know what you’re dealing with first,’” Kimball said in an earlier interview this year with The Record. “His exact words were, ‘I think you have to know what you’re dealing with first.’”
The district began following guidelines for a Title IX investigation on Feb. 25. In an initial Title IX report, some players admitted to abusing teammates while other players described the acts of “baptizing” and “bean-dipping” and identified those that were abused and those players who were participating in the alleged abuse. That report was mailed to parents on Feb. 26.
The first hotline call was made Feb. 27.
According to an incident report by Madison County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Russell Alberts, “Six Arkansas Child Abuse Hotlines were reported on 3/2/2021, all of which were screened out.”
Multiple parents of students involved have told The Record they called the hotline when they were made aware of the allegations in a Title IX report sent from the district to them.
Kimball has always maintained that she couldn’t recall the exact date she called the hotline, but “I knew it had been reported multiple times. And so I did it again just to make sure something wasn’t missed. And I know it doesn’t seem like that, but I was really trying to do due diligence to make sure something wasn’t missed.”
Kimball called the hotline in March while Enix and the district’s Title IX coordinator Tonja McCone were in her office. Kimball told The Record this spring that she waited to call the hotline because “at that point, we didn’t even know if this was accurate information. We didn’t know what we were dealing with.”
In an earlier interview with The Record concerning the district’s failure to immediately report the alleged abuse, Thomas said, “Isn’t that probably the right thing to do is to gather the information to find out what’s going on before you start jumping the gun?”
Kimball said she has called the hotline when abuse concerns “adult to child and so in this particular situation … it is child to child and they’re the same age. So I think that’s why our minds didn’t go to the hotline because typically that’s child abuse from an adult,” Kimball stated to The Record earlier this year.
Alberts and the MCSO were also made aware of the allegations in February through School Resource Officer Monica Blair, but also delayed investigating.
In June when asked about the allegations, Madison County Sheriff Rick Evans told The Record, “The school’s handling it.”
After The Record published reports of the allegations on June 10, the sheriff’s office reversed course and began investigating.
In an email exchange on June 21 with Harwell, Kimball stated that the sheriff’s office had requested documents from the Title IX investigation.
“The sheriff explained to me that the heat is now on them,” Kimball wrote. “I reminded him that the SRO has known about the situation all along,” Kimball wrote.
This summer, six new school board members were elected to the seven-member board. One of the first actions the new board voted on was to accept liability for knowing about the assault allegations but taking no action to prevent or stop the abuse.
A court date for initial appearances in the case is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 6 in Madison County District Court.
This article first appeared in The Madison County Record and is used by permission.
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