By MEGAN MATTEUCCI
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
A Clayton County principal did not violate the law when he waited 11 days to report a child sex abuse allegation to police, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Magistrate Judge Bobby Simmons decided not to issue a warrant for Kendrick Middle School Principal Steve Hughes for failure to report child abuse.
On Jan. 9, a 14-year-old girl reported that teacher and basketball coach Antonio Mahone summoned her to his classroom to give her some candy. He then hugged her and squeezed her buttocks, she told police.
Hughes and his assistant principal called the student’s mother and launched an investigation that same day, said Hughes’ attorney, Steve Frey.
On Jan. 15, Hughes turned a report into the assistant superintendent that said the district’s lawyer should be notified, but he could not substantiate that the incident occurred.
Hughes called police on Jan. 20 after learning another teacher had seen the girl visibly upset after her encounter with Mahone.
“My client contacted his supervisors, took instructions and did as they told him to do,” Frey said. “He investigated this matter thoroughly and contacted the police when he had enough information to indicate a crime may have occurred.”
Georgia law says school officials must call police within 24 hours when there is “reasonable cause to believe” a child has been abused.
Police and Clayton Solicitor General Tasha Mosley argue that Hughes should have called 911 immediately after the student complained and allowed trained detectives — not school staff — to investigate the incident.
“The teachers have a dog in the fight and of course they are going to look out for each other,” Mosley said. “You need to remove the appearance of impropriety.”
Mosley also argued that two administrators told Hughes to call police and he ignored them.
Frey said the principal did not have enough information to call officers. “He’s guilty of insubordination, not guilty of a crime,” he said.
The judge’s ruling, which came after more than four hours of testimony Wednesday, means that officers cannot obtain a warrant for Hughes’ arrest. However, Mosley said she may still try to have the case moved to another court.
Mosley said she also will work with legislators to push for the law to be amended to say the crime should be reported immediately and investigated by police, not school officials.
“Every parent should be very scared that their child could make an outcry of abuse and it will be left to be investigated by teachers,” she said.
School spokesman John Lyles declined to comment on Hughes’ job status, why it took so long to call police or the district’s policy for handling abuse reports, saying it was a personnel matter.
The judge’s ruling had no effect on Mahone, who still faces sexual battery charges. On Monday, the board voted not to terminate Mahone, but to move him to another school. He remains on administrative leave with pay, Lyles said.
Hughes has served as principal at Kendrick for six months and worked as an educator for 27 years.