Attorneys mum on bus hearing

WOODSTOCK – More than 20 students from Strasburg High School and a few school officials filled the benches outside a courtroom Thursday where a hearing was held for seven defendants facing charges linked to an incident on a school bus carrying members of the boys’ junior varsity and varsity basketball teams.

The outcome of the hearing, which involved prolonged negotiations between Commonwealth’s Attorney Amanda McDonald Wiseley and defense attorneys for the students, remained unknown at the conclusion of the day. None of the parties allowed into the closed courtroom would comment about what transpired inside.

The case was triggered in mid-January when school officials received a report of an incident on a school bus carrying the basketball teams home from a game in Moorefield, West Virginia, on Dec. 19. School officials initially described the case as an investigation into a report of sexual assault, a characterization they have since repeated several times.

In the meantime, an investigation by the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office and Wiseley led to seven students on the bus being charged with assault or battery by mob, a misdemeanor. But Wiseley and Sheriff Timothy C. Carter said they did not find enough evidence to charge anyone with a sex offense.

The School Board, acting upon recommendations by schools Superintendent Jeremy Raley, terminated the coaching and extracurricular activity contracts of four employees, an action the superintendent said was a result of the bus incident. Several students linked to the bus incident were also suspended from school and the remainder of the boys’ basketball season was suspended after authorities launched their investigations.

Another investigation, which was conducted by the Frederick County Department of Social Services, determined that accusations of abuse and neglect leveled at coaches on the bus were unfounded.

The case has also spawned a lawsuit by the School Board against Carter. Board members are demanding to see a videotape from the school bus surveillance system as part of disciplinary proceedings conducted against students. Carter has refused to allow board members to see the tape. He has cited advice from Wiseley and the ongoing court case among his reasons for withholding the tape.

The defendants entered the Juvenile and Domestic Relations courtroom at about 4:30 p.m. and began emerging one at a time about a half hour later.

Raley and Strasburg High School Principal Morgan Saeler were among those waiting outside the courtroom. Raley said he had been called to appear at the hearing but he and Saeler were later told they were free to leave without testifying.

Wiseley and defense attorneys David Silek, John O’Neil, Charles Ramsey, William Bassler, Justin Corder and David Hensley spent an hour shuttling in and out of meetings with each other. At one point, Silek asked for volunteers among members of the JV basketball team to testify on behalf of his client. He later told the entire group they were free to leave.

While declining to comment on the hearing after its conclusion, Silek denounced school officials in the latest of a series of verbal salvos he has fired at them since the investigation began.

“I continue to believe this was a matter of locker room hijinks that should never have been brought to court, and the principal and superintendent of schools, as confirmed by the Frederick County Department of Social Services, have unnecessarily cost the academic year for all of these students and the rest of Strasburg High School,” Silek said.

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

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