Macon police didn’t learn that they were lead investigators in the alleged rape of a 16-year-old Northeast High School student until the Bibb County school superintendent’s news conference Tuesday afternoon.
Superintendent Romain Dallemand had called Deputy Police Chief Mike Carswell on Jan. 30, the day before he acknowledged “gaps” in the system’s response to the case, and asked if the Macon Police Department would review the campus police department’s work in the case.
It wasn’t clear until the Tuesday afternoon news conference, however, that the school system was actually handing the case over to city investigators, Police Chief Mike Burns said Wednesday.
Seven teenagers have been charged with the rape of a special-needs student at the school Jan. 19. Three of those students -- two 15-year-olds and a 14-year-old -- were taken to the Macon YDC after the episode. All of the students will be tried as adults, District Attorney Greg Winters said.
Stephanie Prater, who had been serving as the campus police department’s interim police chief, was relieved of duty Tuesday, but school officials would not say for how long or give a reason for her suspension. Sgt. Ulric Bellaire is serving as Bibb’s campus police chief.
The rape case has drawn fire and raised plenty of questions, from why campus police veered from traditional practice and investigated the case themselves to why school officials were not more proactive in acknowledging the attack and notifying parents and the public what had happened.
Burns said the case was the first reported violent crime on school grounds in his memory that Macon police weren’t asked to take the investigative lead on from the start.
“It’s highly unusual,” he said.
When city police officers arrived at The Medical Center of Central Georgia on Jan. 20, the day after the attack, a campus police officer was already there and had files in the case, Burns said. The 16-year-old was allegedly raped and sodomized for about an hour in a school restroom.
The campus police officer told Macon police that he’d keep jurisdiction of the case because it had happened on school property, Burns said. A city police officer asked the campus officer about his credentials, and the campus officer replied that he was qualified to take the case.
Macon police helped out that first night at the hospital, in part by providing the standardized kit that medical professionals use to collect evidence in rape cases. Campus police officers don’t carry the kits, Burns said.
Macon police and the school system have an agreement that campus officers handle felony incidents on school grounds unless the school system asks for city police assistance, he said. Generally, Macon police take the lead and campus police help out.
Asked whether Macon police could have simply taken control of the investigation, Burns said exact jurisdiction would be a legal question.
He said he first learned of the alleged rape at a Jan. 23 staff meeting and asked Carswell to call the school system. The school system responded that it would investigate the case, he said.
“We were ready to go,” Burns said. “We’ve got a lot more resources, but school property is their jurisdiction.”
A week later, on Jan. 30, Dallemand called Carswell and “asked if we’d review the case,” Burns said.
It wasn’t clear until the Tuesday afternoon news conference, though, that the school system was actually giving the case to Macon police.
Macon police received the campus police incident report Tuesday -- which includes the same short narrative as the one released to The Telegraph late Tuesday -- along with audio and video files of interviews that the campus police investigator conducted.
Macon police went to the high school Tuesday and took photos. Interviews that campus police conducted are still being transcribed.
On Wednesday, Macon police investigators met with the school police investigator and a representative of the district attorney’s office to discuss the case.
After reviewing the files available, “It doesn’t sound like he did a bad job,” Burns said of the campus police investigator.
The investigator will continue working on the case, helping Macon police. City investigators will probably interview more people as their probe progresses, Burns said.
Questions not answered
Alisha Allen-Carter, assistant to the superintendent, said the school system hasn’t changed any of its emergency situation policies since Dallemand became superintendent, but that there were gaps in how those policies were implemented during the Northeast incident.
Allen-Carter couldn’t say if there was a crisis team that took the lead in such situations. She said Wednesday afternoon that she would find out that information, but repeated attempts to reach her later in the day were unsuccessful.
She noted that campus police often work together with local law enforcement agencies, citing a gun found at Howard High School a few months ago in which campus police worked alongside Bibb County deputies.
She said she did not know why campus police officials turned away the initial assistance that Macon police offered.
“That’s something that Macon police and the campus police department have to discuss,” she said. “I’m a third party to that.”
Bibb County Sheriff Jerry Modena and Chief Deputy David Davis said Wednesday that the sheriff’s office has always had strong partnerships with neighboring law enforcement agencies, including the campus police department.
Neither one could recall a time when campus police officials declined help from the sheriff’s office, and indeed Modena pointed to recent cases -- a bomb threat at a school and a truancy sweep -- that involved the sheriff’s office, campus police and Macon police.
“For the past 11 years, we’ve had good relations” with the school system,” Modena said. “Generally, they contact us when they’ve got to have our knowledge.”
Davis said the sheriff’s office received no contact from campus police asking for assistance, nor was it notified when the incident first took place. He said he learned about the case from reading the newspaper.
Davis said the lead agency in a situation that may have multiple jurisdictions is usually the agency that first receives the call. But in many of those situations, even if the sheriff’s office isn’t the lead agency, once they are contacted, they see the investigation through to the end.
Davis noted that the campus police “did enough” to arrest seven Northeast students.
“This wasn’t a terrible situation where they were not able to make any arrests,” he said. “If they had not gotten the suspects as quick as they did, I would have insisted that we take part in (the investigation). ... But this case didn’t need that.”
He also had praise for Prater.
“Stephanie has been an integral part of our truancy task force,” Davis said. “She’s given us information, she’s coordinated her people with ours. She’s let us know about bomb threats and lockdowns at schools located in the county. She’s always worked well with us. This particular case seems outside the norm than what we’ve come to expect with her.”
Staff writer Andrea Castillo contributed to this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.