Capital principal faces charge after failing to report alleged sexual assault

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Capital principal faces charge after failing to report alleged sexual assault
By Samuel Speciale, Education reporter; Charleston Daily Mail

Clinton Giles Capital High School Principal Clinton Giles was suspended Tuesday following charges that he neglected to report an alleged sexual assault that occurred at his school last month.

Giles was charged with a misdemeanor Tuesday morning for not reporting the Jan. 26 assault of a 15-year-old female student, which violates a mandate in state code that requires him to immediately report an incident involving physical or sexual abuse of a child. He could face 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, said Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Chuck Miller.

Giles told the Daily Mail on Jan. 27 that “no rape was reported to me,” but authorities say he was notified of the assault by a school counselor on Jan. 26 and that he took no action except to tell two assistant principals they should wait until the next morning to review surveillance footage of the school.

That footage revealed the next day that a struggle had occurred between the female victim and a 17-year-old male juvenile who was later arrested and charged with second-degree sexual assault.

Miller’s office also said Giles was in contact with a Charleston police officer who serves on campus after learning about the assault but failed to notify him it had occurred, and that he told his assistant principals not to speak to the officer until he contacted the Kanawha County school board office for further instructions.

Miller said the delay in reporting the assault could potentially harm the investigation because immediately collecting evidence and conducting interviews is critical.

Giles is being prosecuted under the state law requiring mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect. In 2012, prompted in part by the sexual abuse scandal involving former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, the state Legislature passed a bill toughening the state’s child abuse reporting law.

The change expanded the categories of health, legal and law enforcement professionals who are legally bound to report abuse and increased the penalty from a $100 fine and 10-day jail sentence to the current $1,000 fine and 30 days in jail.

In their defense of delaying the report, school officials have pointed to that law, which says reports must be made within 48 hours. However, Miller said in cases of sexual assault, a report must be made immediately.

According to state code, child abuse or neglect must be reported within 48 hours. In cases of physical or sexual abuse, the report must be made immediately to the State Police and any law-enforcement agencies having jurisdiction to investigate the complaint.

When asked if the delay could have been caused by a misinterpretation of the statute, Miller said he can’t speak for Capital High officials.

“I can’t say if it was or not, but the average person confronted with knowledge of an assault would report it,” Miller said. “Why would you delay that?”

Miller went on to say that Giles had “ample” time to notify authorities of what occurred.

Giles also is accused of failing to immediately report another assault involving the same male juvenile that happened last year. Though not immediately, Giles did report that incident to the school resource officer, Miller said. He said after that incident, Giles knew that type of incident should be reported immediately.

When asked if there is any evidence that suggests Giles didn’t report the incident as a way to protect the student, Miller declined to comment.

“I don’t have any knowledge about that one way or another,” he said.

Jim Withrow, the Kanawha County school board’s attorney, was asked the same question and if the student was a football player or someone related to a school official. He said he knew the student’s name and that it didn’t sound familiar.

Miller said the charges against Giles, at this point, are only accusations and that he is innocent until proven guilty. He added that Giles will not be arrested, but he will be summoned to appear before Kanawha Circuit Judge Carrie Webster when a hearing date is set.

The case originally was assigned to Judge Tod Kaufman, but he recused himself Tuesday because he has known Giles for 26 years.

The incident has brought the future of Giles’ employment into question, but school officials were unwilling to say whether this could lead to termination. Giles has been principal of Capital High School for nearly 14 years.

“Obviously this is a very serious matter,” Withrow said. “This just isn’t a matter of following the letter of the law, it comes down to protecting students.

”Giles could not be reached for comment Tuesday. A person answering the phone at Capital High said Giles was not on campus and a call to his cellphone yielded a message that the line was temporarily disconnected.

Jim McKay, the state coordinator for Prevent Child Abuse West Virginia, lobbied for the changes to state code requiring mandatory reporting of sexual abuse. He said the incident at Capital and another in Braxton County — where a band teacher did not report the assault of a student — highlight the need for the state’s schools to be evaluated on how they prevent abuse.

McKay has worked with state lawmakers on bills that will create a task force that would develop statutory and state education policy changes to better prevent sexual abuse of children. He said one change he would like to see is increased efforts in prevention training.

“In Capital’s case, people tend to focus on what happened after the event,” McKay said. “But we need to work on creating a safe environment where something like that doesn’t happen.”

The bills, House Bill 2527 and Senate Bill 387, were introduced Monday.