Rape scandal festering after new Steubenville charges

Three school district employees placed on leave following indictments

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STEUBENVILLE, Ohio -- Friends Jim Emmerling and Keith Murdock settled in this Ohio River city decades ago and raised families. They believe, in time, it will recover from the scandal that so far has resulted in the rape convictions of two teenagers and the indictment of the school district's top administrator.

Over lunch Tuesday at Hunan Chinese Restaurant in downtown Steubenville, the two discussed news that four more people had been indicted by a special grand jury investigating whether other crimes were committed in connection with the 2012 rape involving two high school football players.

"When the [new indictments] came out, then we had, in our minds, some closure," Mr. Emmerling said.

"Until these court cases have been tried," Mr. Murdock added, "it's going to continue to fester."

The grand jury on Friday indicted Steubenville City Schools superintendent Michael McVey, 50, on charges of obstructing justice, tampering with evidence, falsification and obstructing official business.

He and two other district employees whose indictments were announced Monday have been placed on leave with pay.

Mr. McVey answered the door at his home Tuesday morning and referred questions to his attorney, Charles Bean, who did not return messages seeking comment.

As it happens in close-knit communities, Mr. Emmerling and Mr. Murdock knew some of the accused. Mr. McVey, they said, is a good man, an acquaintance and fellow member of the Rotary Club.

The Steubenville Board of Education said in a statement Tuesday that it had appointed Richard Ranallo, a retired former superintendent, to temporarily replace Mr. McVey. Hired by the school district in 1997 as an assistant principal, Mr. McVey had been superintendent since 2008.

Lynnett Gorman, principal of Pugliese West Elementary School, and Seth Fluharty, an assistant wrestling coach and special education teacher, were each charged with failing to report child abuse or neglect, and both were also placed on leave.

Ms. Gorman's attorney, Stephen Lamatrice, said his client will plead not guilty to the charges. He stressed that they relate to an incident alleged to have happened in April 2012 -- not the August 2012 rape of the then 16-year-old West Virginia girl.

"She is not accused of not reporting something involved in the rape that these two individuals were convicted of," he said.

Dan Tierney, spokesman for the Ohio attorney general's office, said the grand jury was tasked with investigating whether additional crimes were committed in the rape case, and a second incident that Steubenville police asked them to look into. He would not elaborate about the latter.

Also charged Monday was Matt Belardine, 26, who is accused of allowing underage drinking, obstructing official business, falsification and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Brian Duncan and Adam Neiman are representing the former volunteer football coach, whose house was the scene of the party on Aug. 11, 2012, attended by the victim and some 50 others. The pair were also attorneys for Trent Mays, 17, one of the teens found delinquent in the rape.

Mr. Duncan said Mr. Belardine, who is not a district employee, didn't provide any alcohol at the party or know of any wrongdoing and will plead not guilty.

Some in Steubenville on Tuesday said they were surprised that others weren't charged.

"How do you get to the superintendent and miss all the people in the middle?" said Mark Cummings, of nearby Weirton, W.Va.

He said he believes Mr. McVey and the district's technology director, previously charged with tampering with evidence and related offenses, were scapegoats.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Monday that while those who sent texts or took images acted stupidly, the grand jury was unable to charge them with specific crimes under Ohio law. The attorney general convened the special grand jury in April.

Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1944 or on Twitter @borntolede. Robert Zullo contributed. First Published November 26, 2013 1:40 PM


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