Basketball team report came weeks after alleged incident

School and law enforcement officials said Monday an investigation into a reported allegation of sexual or other physical misconduct among Strasburg High School basketball players began on Jan. 11 and Jan. 12, several weeks after the incident.

Strasburg Police Chief Tim Sutherly said almost no time elapsed between the time his department first heard about the incident on Jan. 12 and the decision to pass the information along to the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office, which has been leading the investigation since then.

“It was probably the same day that we received the initial information, and the Sheriff’s Office was notified,” Sutherly said.

Sutherly refused to say how Strasburg police first learned of the incident, but Shenandoah County Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Raley said the investigation was triggered after school division administrators received a troubling report about the boys basketball team on Jan. 11.

“Once we received the initial report, we provided notice to the school resource officer at Strasburg High School,” Raley said. “We received the initial report late Monday evening and began to investigate Tuesday morning and share information with law enforcement on Tuesday.”

Raley refused to comment on the source of the report, citing the need to protect the confidentiality of the ongoing law enforcement investigation.

The Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office has stated that the alleged incident happened in mid-December on a school bus carrying boys basketball players traveling to or returning from an away game.

As a result, Raley announced Thursday that the Strasburg High School junior varsity and varsity boys’ basketball practices and games had been suspended until further notice. The announcement said the action was taken after school officials received “substantial allegations about physical misconduct among student athletes participating in the basketball program at Strasburg High School.”

Games against Warren County High School and Central High School were canceled last week after the investigation began. Strasburg has eight games remaining on its regular season schedule, including a home game on Wednesday against Rappahannock County and a road game at William Monroe on Friday.

Kenney Rinker, the athletic director at Central, said the Warren County and Central games were recorded as forfeits.

Rinker said he was told last week that Strasburg’s basketball season is suspended “indefinitely until the investigation is completed.”

Rinker added that he was uncertain how the investigation and suspension will affect the post-season scheduled to begin next month. Central and Strasburg play in the Virginia High School League’s Conference 35 along with Clarke County, George Mason and Madison County high schools.

“I don’t think anybody is going to know anything until the investigation is over and (we know) what the outcome is,” Rinker said.

The Sheriff’s Office has described the investigation as involving an allegation of sexual assault against a 16-year-old boy. No injuries have been reported.

Sutherly said his department, which maintains a school resource officer at Strasburg High School, passed the information along to the Sheriff’s Office after determining that the incident happened off of school grounds and outside the town.

“It was probably on the same day we received the initial information, and the Sheriff’s Office was notified,” Sutherly said.

Sutherly repeated a warning by Raley last week that police are on alert for any attempts to influence what witnesses say to authorities during the investigation.

“We stand by the school, and we will not tolerate people trying to obstruct witnesses or interfere with or retaliate against witnesses,” Sutherly said.

Raley issued a written statement reiterating that the school system is “taking the action necessary to protect our students from behavior that is not and will not be tolerated by our school division, including any possible retaliation for reporting the allegations.”

Raley’s statement also included a response to comments by David Silek, an attorney who is representing one of the players suspended as a result of the incident. Silek is challenging the suspension and has threatened to sue the school system, citing violations of civil rights law and “failure to provide equal protection under the law.”

Silek, whose client is black, accused the school system of disproportionately punishing black athletes for incidents of “lynching,” a practice in which he said the victims are inappropriately “grabbed” and “tussed.” Silek said “lynching” has involved black and white assailants and victims for years.

Raley said in his statement that the School Board has “a strong, comprehensive policy against discrimination. We take our commitment very seriously, and we have processes for addressing any reported or suspected situation that might involve discrimination, including sexual harassment or hostile environment. Our policy also forbids retaliation.”

Raley added: “We have no notice of a lawsuit. Again, while it is not unusual in today’s world for someone to mention legal considerations, we have meaningful internal processes available to anyone who has substantial and credible information that discrimination has occurred and (is) willing to cooperate with us. We will deal forthrightly with any proven discrimination. We are committed to non-discrimination.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com