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Hearing On Mingo County Middle School Sexual Abuse Allegations Takes Place Behind Closed Doors

Reported: May. 16, 2014 10:45 AM EDT
Updated: May. 16, 2014 11:43 PM EDT

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MINGO COUNTY, W.Va. (Stefano DiPietrantonio) - West Virginia's Attorney General was in court in Mingo County Friday, trying to get an injunction in a sexual abuse case. Patrick Morrisey said the injunction is needed to protect the civil rights of girls attending Burch Middle School.

Court documents filed by Morrisey allege officials at the school and the county board office covered up reports that girls had been sexually abused by two male students at Burch.

Morrisey said the two girls who came forward were actually punished and the boys were protected. Unlike many states, West Virginia's attorney general has almost no law enforcement powers, so Morrisey has filed a civil case.

School officials have admitted no wrongdoing and declined comment. The judge did not consider issuing the injunction Friday, but Morrisey contends some progress happened in closed door sessions.

“The fact is that we have had some discussions with a number of the attorneys on the other side. We're in the process of making progress towards ultimately achieving the end to assure children's rights under the civil rights laws are protected,” Morrisey said.

State troopers are conducting a separate criminal investigation and planned to meet with the county prosecutor to discuss it Friday. The State Human Rights Commission has joined with Morrisey in seeking the injunction.

We wanted to delve into the possible long-term effects this controversy could have for the multiple girls at Burch Middle School and where could this leave the girls years after this is resolved.

"Good old boy system here in Mingo County, and it's not about what's right or what's wrong, it's about what political side you're on," Mark Duane Curry of Williamson said.

"This is something more, than just what's happening at a school in West Virginia, this is happening all over the country, where people challenge authorities, because of some position of status or power, they're able to get away with something, that other people wouldn't get away with," Dr. David Clayman, who is a forensic psychologist in Charleston, said.

He said the long-term effects on those girls will be serious. And warns, parents of the victims will have to really keep an eye on their child's behavior, because one of two scenarios often results from cases like this.

"Children who are exposed to a situation such as this, either end-up distrusting the system so much, that they misbehave themselves, or distrust the system so much, that they don't want to do anything and will not trust anybody else," Clayman said.

Hester Keatley was one of the people in a position of trust. She filled in as a guidance counselor at Burch Middle School briefly last year when the accusations were flying.

"I just need to know what I'm supposed to have done," she said to us inside the Mingo County Courthouse Friday. Or as the injunction stated, what she did not do. Keatley has said she had reported two incidents to the principal at the time, but not to authorities, as State Code dictates she should have. She told us to talk with her lawyer.

"Course I've not been served any papers or anything as of yet," Keatley said.

Keatley, by the way, was running for the Mingo County Board Of Education, but she lost that bid Tuesday. State Police are handling the criminal sexual assault aspect of this case. And so far no one has been charged or arrested.

WILLIAMSON, W.Va. (Bob Aaron, Jeff Morris) – A hearing regarding the sexual abuse controversy in Mingo County took place behind closed doors on Friday with a judge at the Mingo County Courthouse.

Senior Status Judge John Cummings is hearing the matter after administrators at Burch Middle School and Mingo County school officials were accused of covering up sexual abuse allegations brought forth by two girls.

On Friday, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey was at the closed hearing along with school officials and their attorneys. During the hearing, the judge decided to have the parties involved meet without him being present to try to work out a compromise. Morrisey said they made some progress and that the goal is to ensure the two girls receive a safe and secure education without being harassed.

Last week, Morrisey filed a civil rights injunction against the Mingo Board of Education, Mingo County Superintendent Randy Keathley and staff members at the school, including Principal Melissa Webb.

Morrisey claimed they failed to investigate allegations of sexual abuse against two girls by two boys at the school, even retaliated against the girls. The complaint indicates at least one of the boys had relatives within the school system.

-- MGN Online/Wiki Commons Photo

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