by Mark Barnes, Editor, with additional reporting by Jill Richardson
On May 29, the Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue released to the media a letter he had written to the Melba School Board of Directors. Since then, not only have his television interviews regarding two investigations his department has and is currently conducting generated some attention, but his allegations that the Melba School District may have broken the law has raised eyebrows.
According to police reports, on January 14, 2013, Canyon County Sheriff’s department received a report of a sexual misconduct incident at Melba High School. This report, according to Melba School Superintendent Andrew Grover, was made by the high school principal… “I would say within an hour,” Said Grover, “Probably 15 minutes, but definitely within an hour, once we found out about it and started to investigate what it actually was.”
Since that initial report, and after two-to-three month investigation by the sheriff’s office, the results of the investigation were handed over to the Canyon County prosecutor’s office. An arrest was made and a Melba High School student was charged with lewd conduct with a minor and battery with intent to commit a serious felony. The minor remains in custody at the Southwest Idaho Juvenile Detention Center. It is unknown at this time if the charges involve one or more victims due to the sealed nature of the charges involving a suspect who is a minor as well.
However, Sheriff Donahue said his investigations clearly show that there are multiple victims and there may still be more out there.
“My concern is that there are additional victims,” said Donahue. “I don’t know how many victims there are. This is what’s come forward. My goal is to encourage parents, teachers and even children to come forward if they know of or are victims of any incident like that so we can get to the bottom of it. If there are victims out there I want them to know they can come to our office anonymously and get it started. And we can put the resources on it that they deserve. I do not believe the school is doing that. In fact, I believe the opposite.”
But this investigation and charges against the minor are not the sheriff’s only issue with the Melba School District.
In his letter dated April 23 to the Melba School Board, Sheriff Donahue said, “After we were finally made aware of the allegations, and had initiated an appropriate investigation, we learned that school officials had compelled the victims to make statements after the initial complaint rather than contacting law enforcement as is required by law and allowing law enforcement to investigate the case properly.”
Donahue also alleges that witness statements were given to the suspect’s father and that the police were not contacted within a timely manner according to Idaho Stature Title 16, Chapter 16, Code 16-1605 regarding multiple witnesses that came forward to the school administration.
Donahue said that in order to avoid a conflict of interest affecting the criminal charges against the minor, he has asked the Ada County Sheriff’s Office to investigate criminal wrongdoing by the Melba School District administration and school board. Donahue alleges that there are potential legal violations including failure to report, witness intimidation and obstruction of justice.
“I think it’s been blown out of proportion for what it is,” said Superintendent Andrew Grover.
He said that the police were called right away upon finding out about the incident. He also said that while information regarding the charges were given to the school board and to the parents of the suspect, no personal information about the victims or witnesses was handed over. He said the school board needed that information to be able to make a decision to expel the suspected student.
During the course of the investigation regarding the minor, Sheriff Donahue said that “A separate witness, an adult, came forward who alleged that some time ago there was a teacher who was inappropriately doing things at the school… in the classroom. That teacher no longer works there. The allegations that this person brought forward is that there was sexual misconduct with this teacher. This teacher was removed from the school district and that teacher moved on and is currently teaching in another school district.”
“We have no report of that from the school district,” said Donahue. “So we started a new investigation into the allegations. But another conflict of interest we believe arises investigating a failure to report. So we again asked Sheriff Rainey’s office to investigate any obstruction of justice, failure to report and witness intimidation charges. This case is obviously in its infancy. Our detectives are working on it.”
Superintendent Grover said the school has not heard of any accusations of sexual misconduct regarding this teacher and that the first he heard of it was when the sheriff announced it.
“It would be nice on an issue this big if there were some communication on it,” Grover said he has received no information from the sheriff’s department regarding these allegations.
While Grover did confirm that the teacher “parted ways” with the school district several years ago, it was over an issue regarding use of a book. While the book was in the school library, the school felt was inappropriate for teaching.
“He was using a book off the reader’s list that didn’t fit very well with our community,” said Grover. “That just led to a changing of ways, if you will.”
Sheriff Donahue feels that there may be more witnesses or victims out there that haven’t come forward on this yet.
Grover denies any wrongdoing by the school district saying they have followed the law.
“The support we’ve had from our community is unbelievable,” said Grover. “In six years here I haven’t seen the kind of support that we’ve gotten in the last week.”
“I certainly appreciate how people have come together here and tried to take care of what goes on out here. So far, knock-on-wood, we’ve done pretty well. I don’t see in these issues any wrongdoing. Everything is open to their investigation.”
Sheriff Donahue asks that anyone with information about either incidents to call the detective division at 454-7481 or the non-emergency number at 454-7531 and ask for the detective division.