By Linda Looney-Bond
The attorney for Kendrick Middle School Principal Steve Hughes says his client acted properly in reporting a Jan. 9, alleged sexual battery incident involving a teacher and a student.
Clayton County police have filed an application seeking a warrant for Hughes' arrest, stating that Hughes "failed to report the incident to DFCS [child welfare agency] within 24 hours of its occurrence as required by him, an administrator of the school."
The incident involved Antonio Mahone, 47, an in-school suspension teacher and basketball coach, who was arrested and charged with felony sexual battery, according to court records.
The arrest warrant said that Mahone called the female student "into his office to give her some candy which had been promised to her."
In the process of leaving, according to the warrant, the student asked if she could "help with folding team shirts and he [Mahone] said, no, but gave her a hug, at which time he slowly moved his hand to her buttocks and rubbed and squeezed her left buttocks, without consent, with a smile."
Mahone was granted a $5,000 bond on the charge, according to records, and later bonded out of jail. His attorney could not be reached for comment on Monday.
The application for an arrest warrant against Hughes states that the principal was informed of the incident on Jan. 9, but "did not notify DFCS, the appropriate police authority, or district attorney's office until Jan. 20 ...11 days later... that a student had been "inappropriately touched."
Hughes' attorney, Steve Frey, said, "There will be absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Steve Hughes willfully failed to make a report." According to Frey, Hughes reported the incident to Assistant School Superintendent Anthony Smith on Jan. 9, the same day of the incident.
"The law says the incident ... has to be reported to the person in charge of the facility. Hughes reported it to the assistant superintendent for middle schools, so it's our contention that he reported up the chain," said Frey. Frey said he believes, according to the law, anyone who reports such an incident to their superior is absolved from liability.
Another thing that needs to be realized, there's no duty to report until there's "reasonable cause" to believe it [ the improper action] happened, according to Frey.
"He [Smith] gave Hughes some marching orders, and Hughes abided by them," Frey said. "Hughes reported back to him [Smith] with a rough draft on the 14th and a final draft on the 15th," said Frey. "I believe everybody involved in this was doing what they believed they were supposed to do."
Smith said Hughes did report the incident to him. "Yes, he [Hughes] reported it to me, that a child had made accusation against a teacher for inappropriate touching. It was the same day it was reported to him [Hughes]," said Smith.
"I think it was the ninth, that sounds about right. It was that Friday," Smith said. "At which time, I instructed him [Hughes] to do a full investigation and notify the parents," said Smith.
Smith said a full investigation would have included reporting the incident to the proper authorities. Smith said he could not comment further, but added, "With any agency involved in an incident at the school level, the reporting is the responsibility of the principal and his designee."
Julie Lewis, general counsel for the school system, said a designee might be a school counselor or whoever the principal has clearly designated as the person responsible for reporting alleged improper behavior to authorities. "It is the person in charge of the facility or his or her designee who is responsible for making an oral report to DFCS within 24 hours," said Lewis. "It's clear that the principal is the person in charge of a school," she said.
A pre-issuance hearing on the application for the warrant against Hughes is scheduled for March 25 in magistrate court.
The district attorney's office is investigating the case against Mahone to determine whether to send it to a grand jury, according to that office.
Hughes is in his first year as Kendrick Middle School's principal, where he succeeded retired Principal Beverly Garner. He was previously an assistant principal at the school, according to the school's web site. Also on the web site, Hughes said he has been an educator for 23 years.
"I promise to continue to provide a safe, and orderly environment for both teachers and students," Hughes said in his value statement on the school's web site. "I believe that all teachers have a right to teach, and all students have a right to learn. We will not allow anything, or anyone to interfere with teaching and learning."
School System Spokesman Charles White said Mahone is on administrative leave without pay, pending action by the school board. Hughes is still working as Kendrick's principal, although the school system is conducting its own investigation, while it monitors the situation with the requested arrest warrant, White said.