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Published: Tuesday, 11/26/2013 - Updated: 7 months ago

STEUBENVILLE, OHIO

School chief charged in rape inquiry

Superintendent, 3 others face cover-up allegations

BY TORSTEN OVE
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, at a news conference on Monday, refused to discuss the details of the indictments against the four school officials. ‘How do you hold kids accountable if you don’t hold the adults accountable?’ Mr. DeWine asked. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, at a news conference on Monday, refused to discuss the details of the indictments against the four school officials. ‘How do you hold kids accountable if you don’t hold the adults accountable?’ Mr. DeWine asked.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

Steubenville City Schools Superintendent Michael McVey, pictured here in January, faces two felony counts in the case. Steubenville City Schools Superintendent Michael McVey, pictured here in January, faces two felony counts in the case.
STEUBENVILLE HERALD-STAR/MICHAEL D. McELWAIN Enlarge

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — The rape investigation that brought the national spotlight to Steubenville, has ended with the indictments of the city’s school superintendent and three others connected to the school district.

A special grand jury on Friday indicted superintendent Michael McVey, 50, along with a principal, a wrestling coach, and a former assistant football coach on charges related to failing to report or hiding evidence of the sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl by two football players after a drinking party in 2012.

While players Trent Mays and Ma’Lik Richmond were convicted in March, observers had wondered whether others tied to the district and its powerful Big Red football team would be punished.

Now, said Attorney General Mike DeWine, they have been.

“We must treat rape and sexual assault as the serious crimes” they are, he said Monday in announcing the charges. “When it is investigated, everyone has the obligation to help find the truth, not hide, tamper, or destroy the truth.”

Charged along with Mr. McVey are Lynnett Gorman, 40, principal of West Elementary School; Seth Fluharty, 26, an assistant wrestling and strength coach at the high school and a special education teacher, and Matt Belardine, 26, a volunteer football coach whose house was the scene of the party on Aug. 11, 2012, attended by the victim and some 50 others.

Mr. McVey was charged with the most serious offenses of obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence, both felonies. He also was charged with falsification and obstructing official business, both misdemeanors.

Ms. Gorman was charged with one count of failure to report child abuse or neglect, as was Mr. Fluharty.

Mr. Belardine was charged with allowing underage drinking, obstructing official business, falsification, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, all misdemeanors.

The four received summons on Friday and will appear in Jefferson County Common Pleas Court Dec. 6 to be arraigned.

School district officials would not comment.

The facts supporting the allegations were not released.

Demonstrators in masks tied to a hacking group protest at the March trial. The group wanted bystanders who tweeted and joked about the rape to face charges too. Demonstrators in masks tied to a hacking group protest at the March trial. The group wanted bystanders who tweeted and joked about the rape to face charges too.
PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE/BOB DONALDSON Enlarge

Mr. DeWine said his office is bound by secrecy rules in grand jury cases, and he would not discuss the details of the indictments.

The same grand jury had indicted the district’s technology director, William Rhinaman, 53, on charges of tampering with evidence. Mr. DeWine, however, would not say if his case is directly related to the charges against Mr. McVey.

The case has rocked the town of Steubenville, population 19,000, and its school district, with an enrollment of about 2,400. The inquiry generated intense scrutiny because of allegations of a cover-up by school officials and because the events were documented on cell phones by those present and shared on social media.

Recovered texts and images allowed investigators to reconstruct the crime and build a prosecution.

But Mr. DeWine warned that social media has “blurred boundaries” of right and wrong. Sending texts and tweets “divorces us from shame,” he said, and “removes a layer of accountability.”

The trial revealed that other young partygoers sent texts and pictures about the assault or joked about it. Some groups outraged by the case, such as the National Organization for Women and the hacker-activist group Anonymous, demanded that these partygoers be charged too.

Mr. DeWine said Monday that those who sent texts or took images acted stupidly, but the grand jury was unable to charge them with specific crimes under Ohio law.

He also said the case is a lesson in adult responsibility or the lack of it. What happened in Steubenville, he said, happens across America when teens and alcohol mix without supervision.

“How do you hold kids accountable if you don’t hold the adults accountable?” he asked. “It is up to the adults to intervene.”

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Torsten Ove is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

Contact him at: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-231-0132.



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