Bixby Public Schools administrators and the school board vice president are engaged in the school district’s internal investigation of a student’s rape allegations despite possible conflicts of interest.
A 16-year-old high school student has reportedly told law enforcement investigators he was attacked with a pool cue by his Spartans football teammates at a team function held at the home of the Bixby superintendent.
Multiple sources have told the Tulsa World the event was a dinner for members of the team’s offensive line.
School board Vice President Lisa Owens has participated in both special meetings — Nov. 9 and Nov. 30 — at which the board has met behind closed doors to discuss the investigation led by the board’s contract attorney. But her own son, whose initials do not match those of any juvenile suspects included in public law enforcement records about the case, is a Bixby football player on the offensive line.
Asked after Thursday’s special meeting why she hasn’t recused from participating in board discussions about the investigation, Owens responded, “I’m not talking to you.”
Owens did not respond to a follow-up email seeking comment and asking whether her son was present at the team function where the attack reportedly occurred.
The school board announced the investigation, led by its attorney Doug Mann and assisted by High School Principal Terry Adams and Athletic Director Jay Bittle, at the Nov. 9 meeting.
Superintendent Kyle Wood was not included because the attack is alleged to have occurred in his home and he, too, has a son on the team.
Since then, law enforcement officials have filed public court records that indicate school officials’ handling of the allegations is also under investigation.
An email obtained by the Tulsa World indicates that Adams and Bittle would be personally conducting “fact-finding” interviews with high school football players.
The written communication signed by Adams is addressed to “Bixby football players and parents” and states that the purpose of the interviews he and Bittle would be conducting is “to evaluate the overall culture of the Bixby High School Football Program. These interviews are not disciplinary in nature but rather a fact-finding activity to allow the school to make sure that the culture of the football program meets the expectations of the Board of Education, the school and the community.”
On Nov. 17, investigators went onto school property and served search warrants to seize the cellphones of Wood, Adams, Bittle and four juvenile suspects, as well as school district records related to “sexual assault, hazing or bullying involving members of the Bixby football team in 2016 or 2017.”
Records for both years were sought because the victim reportedly told investigators the recent sexual assault was just the latest attack on him, as “a similar incident had also happened at a team function at the same location during the 2016 football season.”
Additionally, district officials were given until Friday to produce all of the emails of Wood, Adams, Bittle and head football coach Loren Montgomery between Sept. 27 and Nov. 16.
The search warrants, filed in Tulsa County District Court early last week, stated that probable cause had been shown that the various items are “subject to search/seizure upon one or more grounds as it contains evidence relating to a violation of” state statutes on first-degree rape, failure to report child sexual abuse, conspiracies thereof, and/or accessory to said crimes.
“It is unclear when school officials reported this sexual assault of a child to the authorities, although it was certainly delayed for days,” a prosecutor’s investigator wrote in a search warrant affidavit. “It certainly appears that any reporting of the incident was significant and has caused difficulty in the investigation, especially including the inability to preserve evidence. It also appears that there may have been some initial effort by one or others to not report the incident at all.”
The Tulsa World emailed both Bittle and Adams asking how they could be participating in the school district’s internal investigation given law enforcement’s investigation of their cell phones and emails.
Mann, the school board’s attorney, responded for them, saying only Adams is conducting the interviews.
“He will be reporting to me throughout this interview process and providing me with weekly updates,” Mann said of Adams. “The sole purpose of his interviews is to learn as much as possible from the players as to whether the culture of the football program meets the expectations of the Board of Education, the school and the community.”
Mann added: “The plan is to interview all players on the 2017 football team. This information will be provided to the Bixby board of education as a part of the board’s ongoing review of recent allegations within the football program.”
The affidavit says Bittle told police on Nov. 2 that after someone reported “rumors of hazing/bullying,” he spoke to the victim and the boy initially denied “the incident then became very emotional and disclosed the sexual assault.”
Bittle also reportedly told officers one of the juvenile suspects “admitted to holding the victim down during the assault,” and Bittle provided to police the names of three other juveniles “as being involved in the incident.”
Multiple sources with direct knowledge have told the Tulsa World in late October that a handful of Bixby High School football players were kicked off the team for the remainder of the season amid the allegations.
But there has been no move to suspend any district officials, despite the indications that law enforcement are also investigating school officials’ handling of the allegations.
Officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Education, who routinely recommend state board of education action against the certifications of educators under investigation by law enforcement, called the allegations at Bixby “alarming” and said they are monitoring the situation.
“We are aware of the allegations being reported and anticipate obtaining additional information in the near future. The allegations are alarming, and without exception, student safety is of paramount concern,” said Steffie Corcoran, spokeswoman for the education department.
Asked at what point state board action on an administrator or educator’s certification is considered, Corcoran said, “Bringing action to the State Board depends on many factors, including the stage of an investigation, evidence shared with OSDE by law enforcement, district attorney offices, local school districts and/or others.”