Principal who failed to report student rape brought to Ind. Supreme Court
By Hannah Smith
What happened next led to a legal debate that went all the way to the Indiana Supreme Court.
On Thursday, the Court issued a stinging rebuke to the principal.
Muncie Central High School’s principal, Christopher Smith, never called the police that day. Though several police officers were on campus, Smith didn’t tell any of them, either.
The principal wasn’t sure whether he believed the girl’s account. Even after someone else drove the girl to the hospital, he ignored repeated suggestions that the case was a police matter. He never blocked off the bathroom where the rape occurred, resulting in a contaminated crime scene. He questioned the rapist briefly, but then allowed him to go home.
Prosecutors charged Smith with failing to immediately report an instance of child abuse to authorities. A trial judge found him guilty and sentenced him to 120 days probation and 100 hours community service. A year later, the verdict was overturned on appeal.
On Thursday, the Indiana Supreme Court reinstated the principal’s conviction and reprimanded him.
“When time was of the essence, Smith dawdled, delayed and did seemingly everything he could to not contact DCS or the police,” Justice Steven David wrote for the majority. “Whether this failure was out of ignorance, a desire to protect the reputation of the perpetrator or perhaps a wish to keep his school from receiving negative publicity on his watch is not clear.”
The rapist, then-16-year-old Steven Moore, admitted to the rape six days after the investigation started. He was sentenced to five years with four years executed and one year probation.
Smith’s court decision came barely a week after a girl at Lawrence Central High School reported being raped in a gymnasium during school hours.
When parents send their children to school, most assume their children are safe under the guardianship of teachers and administrators. That assumption of safety could be misplaced.
For two years, the Center for Disease Control found Indiana has the second-highest percentage of high school girls reporting they’ve been sexually assaulted. While 10.5 percent of high school girls throughout the nation report they’ve been sexually assualted, that number is closer to 18 percent in Indiana — nearly one in five.
This does not include the fact that up to half of sexual assaults likely go unreported, said Anita Carpenter, CEO of the Indiana Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
“There are probably sexual assaults that are happening in high school campuses that we don’t know about and would be totally shocked to know about, because we’re shocked about the ones we do know about,” Carpenter said. “When we have perpetrators sexually assaulting another student in the middle of the school day, that’s a problem.”
In the days and weeks following the rape at Muncie Central, detectives interviewed all people involved to piece together what happened before, during and after the rape was reported. Based on police reports, testimonies and more than 600 pages of court documents, here is what happened Nov. 9, 2010:
The girl who was raped was already considered by the school to be at-risk. She was under the guardianship of a youth home, and school officials knew she needed more attention than the average student.
That day, assistant principal Kathy McCord and three school security officers were patrolling the lunchroom. McCord saw Moore and the girl together in the hallway and asked them where they were going. Moore replied he was going to the library, while the girl answered, “the gym locker room.”
Instead, the girl said in her statement Moore then followed her to her locker.
“Come here,” he said to her, in the hallway near the locker room.
She did, and he pulled her into the boys’ restroom and raped her. After he left, the girl moved to the girls’ restroom and discovered she was bleeding.
Back in the cafeteria, McCord saw Moore return just in time for the bell to ring. The cafeteria was so crowded, she didn’t stop him as he followed the crowd toward his next class.
The girl eventually left the restroom and saw her friend. She asked the friend if she had any extra clothes, and the friend saw the girl was crying. With some prodding, the girl told her friend she had been raped. The friend insisted they tell someone.
McCord had just returned to the main office when the girl came in with a friend, at 12:20 p.m. She was visibly upset, and the friend had an arm around her. McCord took both girls into her office and listened to the story as the girl cried.
McCord told the principal. He asked the girl who had done it. Without hesitation, she said, “Steven Moore.”
However, within five to 10 minutes of the report, Smith and others questioned the girl’s claim, given she had allegedly faked a seizure earlier in the year and lied about an attendance issue.
Smith radioed the school nurse to come to the office, not to examine the girl, but because Smith said he wasn’t sure what the girl needed.
He sent McCord to review video evidence of the hallway where the girl said the rape occurred, which took more than an hour.
Smith asked the girl for a written statement. She wrote hers without uncertainty, describing how Moore had put his hand over her face during the attack and ignored her pleas.
“I was like, ‘Stop Steven,’” she wrote, “but I didn’t want to be loud because I didn’t want to draw attention.”
Around 2 p.m., a representative from the girl’s group home took the girl to a hospital for a sexual assault exam. Smith tried to call the school system superintendent to see if a security officer should be involved, but Smith could not reach him.
Afterward, Smith called Moore to the office, and he invited the athletic director to sit in on his conversation. Moore said he hadn’t had sex with the girl, but they had exchanged sexually explicit notes. Smith allowed Moore to go back to class.
Both Moore’s and the girl’s lockers were searched. Graphic notes were found, but none were signed. At the end of the day, Moore went home.
Once both students were out of the main office, Smith and others resumed their interviews for an open administrator position.
It wasn’t until 4:30 p.m that Sloan called the Child Abuse Hotline for Smith to report the incident. The operator advised him to call law enforcement. Neither Sloan nor Smith ever did.
An hour later, Smith went to the hospital to check on the girl, but left after 40 minutes to attend a school board meeting where he recognized several coaches and the volleyball team.
During all this time, more than 10 adults knew a student had reported a rape, and not one of them reported it to the Muncie Police Department to report it. Three different people had suggested to Smith personally that he contact police.
Smith said he did not know that he had to contact the police directly, or that under Indiana state law sexual contact between minors is usually considered child abuse, which must be reported “immediately.”
His defense said he thought “immediately” meant within 24 hours of the report.
In response to this, Judge Thomas Cannon read to him from the Webster dictionary in court, defining “immediately” as, “in an immediate manner; specifically, a) without intervening agency or cause; directly; b) without delay; at once; instantly.”
“Under the facts of this case,” Justice David wrote in the Supreme Court ruling, “no reasonable person of ordinary intelligence would have difficulty determining whether or not Smith acted with a sense of urgency or primacy of purpose.”
According to his LinkedIn profile, Smith still works for the Muncie School Corporation as an adult education teacher at Muncie-Work One. During an interview with detectives 10 days after the incident in 2010, once details of the events began to become clear, detectives asked Smith if he would have called police sooner, if he had the chance to go back.
“If I had to do it over again,” he told them, “I probably would.”
Follow reporter Hannah Smith on Twitter @hannsmit.