May 2023 UPDATE: Federal Court Clears District of Wrongdoing in Brad Rich Matter
May 10, 2023
On May 10, 2023, the Cabot School District was notified that United States District Court Judge Jay Moody has granted summary judgment in favor of the District, Superintendent Dr. Tony Thurman, Cabot High School Principal Henry Hawkins, and former Athletic Director Steve Roberts and dismissed each from the case effective immediately. An official order from Judge Moody is forthcoming. A motion for summary judgment is granted when the plaintiff cannot succeed at a trial because the law is not in his or her favor with the facts as presented.
As a reminder, on May 17, 2021, a former student filed a lawsuit against the District Defendants, in addition to other defendants unrelated to the District. The former student alleged that the District Defendants violated the law by not protecting the student from an off-campus sexual assault in the summer of 2015 by Brad Rich, a volunteer in the girls basketball program. Rich pleaded guilty to related charges in September 2020 and was sentenced.
Neither the school district nor the police were made aware of the assault until the spring of 2019, shortly before Rich was arrested. However, Rich was removed from campus in September 2015 after District staff was informed that Rich sent inappropriate text messages to a different student. At that time, Rich’s actions were reported to the Arkansas State Police Child Abuse Hotline.
Additionally, over the past two years, the former student’s identity was confirmed in court records in accordance with applicable court rules. The court records naming the student were recently posted on social media after an Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the District for all court documents. Though the District has had this information and it was open to release, we have never identified the student in any posting nor will the District do so now.
The ruling confirms that the District Defendants were not responsible for wrongdoing in this matter.
New Details Emerge in Brad Rich Case: Allegations that the Cabot School District Failed to Report Proven to be False
The Cabot School District has discovered important new details in the criminal case involving Brad Rich, a former 2015 volunteer in our basketball program.
It is important to remember that there were incidents involving Rich with two different former students.
The district has confirmed with the Department of Human Services and the Cabot Police Department that the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline was, in fact, contacted on September 13th, 2015, regarding inappropriate text messages between Rich and a former student (Student 2).
During the summer of 2015, Carla Crowder, former head basketball coach, permitted Rich to volunteer in the girls basketball program. Rich pleaded guilty last September and was sentenced to probation for an off-campus sexual assault that occurred in the summer of 2015 involving a then student-athlete (Student 1) in the basketball program. Neither the school district nor the police were made aware of the assault until the spring of 2019, shortly before Rich was arrested.
The first notification the district received regarding concerns with Brad Rich was on the evening of Friday, September 11, 2015, when district officials were made aware of inappropriate text messages between Rich and Student 2.
Current administrator Cabot High School Principal Henry Hawkins and former Director of Athletics Steve Roberts, along with others, have been accused of mishandling the reporting of the case. This is not accurate. Mr. Roberts notified administrators and verified that the student’s parent was also aware of the text messages on September 11th. It has also been confirmed with the Arkansas Department of Human Services that a district administrator made a report to the Child Abuse Hotline.
John Lowden, Administrator of the Arkansas Child Maltreatment Central Registry, certified and stated under oath on Thursday, May 13, 2021, that DHS has a “screened out” report that was made on September 13, 2015, pertaining to Brad Rich, text messages, and our former student. When a report is “screened out,” there is no further investigation.
The explanation provided to the school district regarding the inaccuracy of the reporting was that reports not formally investigated are stored in a separate database. That database was not checked by Arkansas State Police when responding to the request for verification by the Cabot Police Department.
The Cabot Police Department also confirmed this new information and immediately added an addendum to the Brad Rich case file. Detectives with the Cabot Police Department had originally contacted Arkansas State Police to verify the existence of the 2015 DHS hotline report made by a district administrator. Cabot Police Department was notified by the Arkansas State Police via email on June 14, 2019, that “there was nothing in their system." However, based on information provided to the district that a thorough check of all reports was not performed by Arkansas State Police, we received an affidavit from DHS with the report number confirming that the child maltreatment hotline had, in fact, been contacted.
Indeed, it is now undisputed that the district did fulfill its legal obligation to report suspected child abuse when it reported the incident on September 13, 2015.
An additional point brought forward as a result of the text messages was the lack of a background check in advance of Brad Rich being allowed to volunteer. It’s important to note that checks were not mandatory in 2015 for those serving in this capacity, but had a background check been completed, there would have been no findings.
It has been brought to the attention of the school district that the former student-athlete involved in the 2015 sexual assault allegation (Student 1) has filed a complaint in federal court alleging that the district “had notice of Rich’s prior sexually aggressive behavior and inappropriate conduct around minor females.” If anyone in the school district had been made aware of the sexual assault allegations or any predatory action prior to or during the summer of 2015, the district would have responded immediately against Rich.
The Cabot School District strongly denies these claims and will be represented by the law firm of Bequette, Billingsley, and Kees in Little Rock and the district will issue no further comments.
As we have mentioned in previous statements to the media, the Cabot School District worked extensively to reexamine and recall specific details regarding an incident that took place six years ago. As with many cases involving school districts, privacy laws, especially as they pertain to minors, prevent us from fully sharing our side of the story to the public.
It has been difficult and disheartening to watch the credibility and reputation of the school district and current and former administrators attacked.
Regardless of the inaccuracies, our hearts will continue to go out to the young ladies as a result of the actions of Brad Rich.