Three months ago, alleged child sexual assaults at Maxwell made gripping headlines, but the charges have fizzled. Now, officials are talking about the future. In the aftermath of what became stunning allegations of sexual abuse among students, attorneys for both sides said Wednesday that more effort will be made at the Maxwell school to report sexual hazing and/or abuse to law enforcement.
No sexual assault charges were ever filed in Lincoln County.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys issued the joint statement, saying that in retrospect, perhaps Maxwell school officials should have reported allegations to law officers or the state Department of Health and Human Services.
The alleged abuse occurred among members of the boys wrestling team in August 2011 and February 2012.
School officials said they conducted their own investigation but found nothing substantial. But concerned parents pressed the issue with the Nebraska State Patrol, and the NSP started an investigation in July.
In September, the NSP cited three school employees -- wrestling coach Ryan Jones, Superintendant Dan Twarling and Principal Aubrey Boucher -- for failing to report suspected child abuse.
The citation became statewide news. The Omaha World Herald obtained search warrant documents, including a woman’s shocking statement to an NSP investigator that a wrestler was held down and sodomized with a pop bottle at a late-summer wrestling camp.
Also, according to the search warrant statements, the same student was allegedly assaulted in February, when another student grabbed him on a school bus.
But the assaults may not have ever happened. The allegations were hotly disputed. Even the wrestler and the wrestler's mother told top school officials, more than once, that the abuse never happened, defense attorney Robert Lindemeier said.
"They (school officials) obtained accounts of what happened from several students,” Lindemeier said soon after the NSP issued the citations. “They investigated the allegations and determined there was no reasonable cause that a child had been subjected to abuse.”
Nevertheless, NSP investigators questioned community members and searched pertinent files from the school. Lt. Lynn Williams said in September that the initial investigation led to more potential victims.
After the investigation, the NSP gave their findings to the Lincoln County Attorney, Williams told the Bulletin. Currently, that evidence is in the hands of the Buffalo County Attorney, which has jurisidiction in the case because the August 2011 incident reportedly happened at a wrestling camp in Kearney.
Buffalo County Attorney Shawn Etherton said Friday that he is reviewing the evidence. He has not decided if charges are warranted.
Lincoln County Attorney Rebecca Harling did not press charges, either for abuse or for the failure of key Maxwell school officials to report suspicious behavior to higher authorities.
Harling and Lindemeier said this week that the school will revise policies and procedures to help understand when and where to report such allegations.
The school staff will be offered training by the state Department Health and Human Services, the Lincoln County Attorney’s Office as well as the Maxwell school board and its attorney.
Also, teacher’s schedules will be structured to allow them to tour the Bridge of Hope advocacy center in North Platte -- a shelter for domestic and sexual assault victims -- and new school policies will be implemented at Maxwell to require the school board’s legal counsel to be involved in appropriate cases, the attorneys said.
“It is our intent to better protect each and every student as well as provide guidelines for those who are in charge of their safety,” Harling and Lindemeier said. “In moving forward, the goal is to create a stronger relationship between the community and the school to affirm that whenever abuse or neglect has occurred, such incidents will be reported so they may be investigated properly.”
How to report
Nebraska law makes it mandatory to report incidents of child neglect or abuse, Harling and Lindemeier said in the statement.
If you know of child neglect or abuse, contact a local law enforcement agency such as the Nebraska State Patrol, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s office or the North Platte Police Department. Or a person can fulfill their legal obligation by calling a Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services hotline at 1-800-652-1999.