School board pressures Carter on bus videotape

The rift between the Shenandoah County School Board and Sheriff Timothy C. Carter widened Thursday as the two sides exchanged harsh words over a videotape the school officials are seeking from the sheriff.

Carter rejected what amounted to a proposed settlement of a lawsuit the board has filed against Carter over the videotape. The proposed settlement would require Carter to show the disputed video in a closed session attended by parents and students facing disciplinary actions as a result of an incident on a school bus carrying members of the Strasburg High School boys junior varisity and varsity basketball teams.

School officials have been trying to obtain the video, which was recorded on the school bus surveillance system, as the team was returning Dec. 19 from a game in Moorefield, West Virginia. Seven students on the bus were charged with assault or battery by mob, a misdemeanor, and recently pleaded guilty in Shenandoah County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

School officials and an outside attorney hired by the school system have contended that the videotape shows sexual misconduct by one or more students against the victim in the case. Carter and Commonwealth’s Attorney Amanda McDonald Wiseley have insisted there is not enough evidence on the tape or elsewhere to charge the students with sex offenses.

School Superintendent Jeremy Raley hired the outside attorney under a civil rights law requirement governing school responses to possible sexual assaults.

A court hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in Harrisonburg on the lawsuit the board has filed. It demands that Carter allow board members and parents and students to view the video.

School Board Chairwoman Karen Whetzel issued a written statement Thursday criticizing Carter’s refusal to share the videotape as “nothing more than a political campaign.”

“For the School Board, this is not about politics,” Whetzel said. “It is about doing what is fair for the students and their parents. This is about giving parents and students a fair opportunity to review and respond to the same information that has already been made available to the Sheriff and to many school division leaders and others. This is information that the School Board and the students are being denied.”

 

 

Carter said he was perplexed by Whetzel’s comments and the proposed settlement, which he would have to sign before it could be submitted to a judge for final approval.

Carter said he will not agree to any such document until a judge first authorizes the release of the videotape.

“I think I’ve made it very clear that for me to do what they’ve been asking me to do requires a judge to order it,” Carter said. “I don’t see anything adversarial about that.”

Carter said he was obliged under state law to protect evidence used in juvenile court cases. Hearings in such cases are normally closed under state law, and the accompanying records are withheld from the public.

Carter also said he has a legal obligation to protect the integrity of criminal investigations by keeping evidence out of the public eye. Carter has said there is still a possibility that new evidence could surface that might require authorities to consider additional charges in the case.

“I don’t believe there’s anything politically motivated about that,” Carter said. “Maybe Ms. Whetzel believes that. I don’t believe that.”

Carter also stood by earlier comments he has made that Wiseley has advised him not to release the tape.

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

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