By Linda Looney-Bond
and Curt Yeomans
A judge ruled Wednesday that Kendrick Middle School Principal Steve Hughes did nothing wrong in waiting 11 days to report an alleged incident of sexual battery involving a student and a teacher at his school.
After more than four hours of witness testimony, and arguments by Clayton County Solicitor General Tasha Mosley's office and defense attorney Steve Frey, Clayton County Magistrate Judge Bobby Simmons -- sitting by designation as a Superior Court Judge -- ruled that there was no probable cause to arrest Hughes for failure to report the incident.
The Jan. 9 incident involved Antonio Mahone, 47, an in-school suspension teacher and basketball coach at Kendrick Middle School.
A 14-year-old student alleged that Mahone called her into his office to give her some candy that he had promised her, then hugged her, touched her buttocks and smiled, according to testimony by Clayton County Police Officer Sabriya Rainey, the officer who submitted the application for an arrest warrant against Hughes.
In the warrant application, Rainey alleged that Hughes "failed to report the incident to DFCS (the child welfare agency) within 24 hours of its occurrence as required by him, an administrator of the school."
Rainey testified that Hughes told her he waited 11 days to report the incident to the Department of Family and Children Services and police because he was conducting an internal investigation.
Frey, however, argued that, "The state has to show that he [Hughes] willfully refused to do his duty ... to report." He pointed out that Hughes reported the incident to Assistant Superintendent Anthony Smith the same day the allegations were made. Frey said Smith instructed Hughes to conduct an investigation and Hughes did as he was told.
Mosley called math teacher and basketball coach Tomika Hardaway to the stand. Hardaway testified that the alleged victim is in her homeroom class, and math class, and that she coaches the student in basketball. She said when she saw the student on the day of the incident, "she was teary-eyed ... and she mumbled something."
Hardaway said when the student told her what happened, she sent her to see school counselor Theresa Douglass.
Frey argued that Hughes called DFCS and police after his investigation revealed that Hardaway had reported seeing the student "teary-eyed." "My client felt that tipped the scales," Frey said.
After hearing testimony and closing arguments, Simmons said the law states that the person in charge of the facility must report the incident to authorities "within 24 hours from the time there is reasonable cause to believe a child has been abused," not 24 hours after the official learns that an incident has occurred.
"I'm finding that there is not a willful failure to violate," Simmons said.
Frey said the confusion over when school officials are required to report an incident may be a "case study whereupon we can arrive at a better policy," but maintained that his client adhered to the current policy.
Douglass testified that although school employees are required to watch a video about reporting such incidents, she could not recall receiving anything in writing that made clear when reporting them is required. "I don't know if I've gotten an exact, step-by-step protocol. I just know I'm supposed to report it," she said.
Douglass also testified that she reported the incident to Assistant Principal Stacy Black, who then reported the allegations to Hughes.
Hughes has been a principal for six months and an educator for 27 years, according to Frey.
School System Spokesman John Lyles said the district's Human Resources department is still looking into Hughes' handling of the situation. Lyles declined to comment further on the matter involving Hughes and Mahone, citing personnel reasons, and the "nature of the accusation."
Meanwhile, the Clayton County Board of Education rejected a school system tribunal's recommendation to terminate Mahone's employment Monday at a board work session. The board voted 5-4 against the recommendation, and 5-3 to transfer Mahone to another school.
"There seems to be some loopholes in the story," school board Vice Chairperson Ophelia Burroughs said.
School System General Counsel Julie Lewis said district officials spent Wednesday discussing which school Mahone would be transferred to. No decision was made, she said.
Mahone was charged with felony sexual battery, arrested and freed on $5,000 bond. The district attorney's office is investigating the case against Mahone to determine whether to send it to a grand jury, according to the office.
Mahone's attorney, Borquaye Thomas, said, "It's his word against hers. There definitely is a conflicting story that was told, and that information will come out later.
"Unfortunately, you are viewed as guilty even though you haven't been proven guilty," Thomas said. "But the evidence will show that he did not do anything wrong."