Two members of the Bibb County school system’s command staff were in close contact with the campus police department’s chief soon after a girl was allegedly raped at Northeast High School and praised the department’s work in the case.
One of them, the assistant to Superintendent Romain Dallemand, received e-mails forwarded by the campus police chief, Stephanie Prater, including a report that Macon police had handed off the investigation to her department.
Prater, 44, was put on administrative leave with pay after a Tuesday news conference, told that she didn’t follow policies regarding how members of the school system’s administration were kept abreast of the investigation, said Charles E. Cox Jr., Prater’s lawyer.
Dallemand said at the news conference that he wasn’t aware until Monday that city police weren’t part of the investigation.
But Cox said Prater kept her supervisor, Deputy Superintendent Edward Judie, and other members of the central office leadership team updated during the investigation, and he provided The Telegraph copies of e-mails from Prater to her superiors to prove it.
Among Judie’s duties as deputy superintendent of student affairs are working with administrators to address discipline problems at schools.
“If there’s an established notification protocol she’s violated, she’s not seen it,” Cox said Thursday. “She’s done nothing wrong. She handled the investigation appropriately.”
Prater has served as a campus police officer for 15 years. She worked as deputy chief from 2000 to 2009 and has served as interim chief twice, Cox said.
Cox said Prater hasn’t been told how long she will be suspended or whether she’ll be allowed to go back to work.
“It’s unclear to us,” he said.
She could remain on administrative leave for a maximum 30 days. Cox said Prater “wants and expects to come back to work. She doesn’t see why she should be on leave.”
Reached Thursday, Prater would say only: “My job is about the kids. I feel like I did what was best for the students. ... My heart is with the students.”
What the e-mails say
Campus police investigator Corey Goble sent Prater an e-mail at 7:42 p.m. Jan. 20, the night that police went to The Medical Center of Central Georgia to meet with the 16-year-old special-needs student who had allegedly been attacked.
Goble updated Prater, saying that the alleged rape had happened inside Northeast’s Mark Smith building. The girl had bathed at least once since the attack, “so sexual assault kit may be in vain,” he wrote.
“Members of Crisis Line are on scene with victim, and MPD Persons Crimes Div has turned case over to us,” Goble wrote. “They will be providing assistance with their Juv sex crimes unit, and they are en route.”
Prater forwarded Goble’s message to Alisha Allen-Carter, assistant to the superintendent, at 7:45 p.m. that Friday, saying that officers were going to try to locate video footage.
Allen-Carter responded at 8:05 p.m., saying “Thank you!!”
Prater sent another update to Judie and Allen-Carter at 6:46 a.m. Jan. 21, a Saturday, saying that campus police had two students in custody. One of the students confessed, and that student identified three more students.
Although phone records weren’t available Thursday, Cox said Prater told Judie that she’d talked with Deputy Police Chief Mike Carswell on Jan. 23 regarding the case.
She’d talked with Carswell on her personal cell phone and finished the conversation right before a meeting with Judie, Cox said.
At that time, campus police had made four arrests in the case and didn’t need city police officers to take over, he said.
Other e-mails show that Prater updated Judie and Allen-Carter on Jan. 24, five days after the attack, at 3:19 p.m., saying two more students had been charged.
Prater, who has been on the force since the 1990s, sent another update to Allen-Carter and Judie on Jan. 25 at 4:16 p.m., saying that District Attorney Greg Winters said “we are doing an excellent job and handling this case extremely well.”
She went on to write that Macon police leaders were upset, but no memorandum of understanding existed that would “support them immediately or in consultation, for taking over cases that clearly occur in our jurisdiction.”
Prater expressed gratitude for the school system’s trusting her leadership and decisions.
At 4:21 p.m., Allen-Carter replied, “You all have been awesome. The media hasn’t even contacted me today. I told them that I was done commenting, and I meant I was done commenting.”
Campus police saw the need to act immediately after learning of the Jan. 19 incident, said a school system employee familiar with the investigation, adding, “It would have been a nightmare getting another agency in because (school officials) are so tight-lipped when it comes to an outside agency getting information.”
Goble, who had recently been hired after working at the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office, has eight years of experience, and it was decided that he had the credentials to investigate the matter.
In the past, campus police had typically handed more serious cases to local law enforcement agencies because the campus officers didn’t have experience investigating such crimes. However, Bibb County school policy notes that all felonies “under Georgia law shall be immediately reported to the school district police for investigation and prosecution.”
Campus police proceeded with the case because they had immediate access to school files that, in the end, supplied information about where the suspects in the episode lived.
Campus police worked over the weekend and made arrests that would have been problematic during school hours. In the past, school officials have bristled when campus police tried to do their jobs during school hours and “interrupted” classes, the school employee said.
Prater was told she was “a discredit to the entire board of education” for not informing the superintendent’s office that campus police hadn’t called in outside investigative help, the school employee said.
Dallemand said he received a call from Allen-Carter about the rape investigation on Jan. 20, the day after the incident.
His instructions to her were to have the victim’s mother call Macon police.
“The order was to call the Macon Police Department. My understanding is it was a capital case and Macon police had to handle it,” he said.
Understanding that the victim’s mother had called Macon police, Dallemand said he was under the impression the city department was handling the investigation from that point forward.
When Dallemand met with his staff the following Monday, he said he was still under the impression that Macon police were in charge. He said that when he found out almost two weeks after the incident that campus police -- and not Macon police -- were handling the investigation, he personally contacted Carswell, Macon’s deputy police chief, and asked Macon police to take over the investigation.
Dallemand said he did not receive regular updates about the investigation in nearly two weeks. Under the impression that Macon police had the case, he said he thought there were no updates and that the two police departments would communicate directly with each other.
Dallemand said he was not aware of the e-mails that Prater sent her superiors or an e-mail that the central administrative office sent out Jan. 24 about the case. He said he would not comment on the ongoing investigation.
Where Macon police stand
Carswell and Macon Police Chief Mike Burns said Thursday that their department is still reviewing files from campus police. Burns said he has seen copy of a video from Northeast, but there was some delay in getting the two departments’ technology to sync up. Burns said his department also is in the process of transcribing interviews conducted by campus investigators, and that he hasn’t yet seen many of those supplemental reports.
Burns said campus investigators did a satisfactory job with their investigation, given that seven teenagers have been charged with rape and other crimes, but there are additional interviews he wants to conduct to make certain the investigation is airtight.
Macon police detectives could face hindrances as the investigation continues, Burns said. For example, while campus investigators were able to interview some of the suspects without attorneys, those charged in the case have since obtained lawyers. Any subsequent interrogation of the suspects would have to be done with the lawyers’ permission, Burns said. If the attorneys were uncooperative, his investigators would have to rely on the notes and transcripts from the previous interviews.
Burns added that officials from the district attorney’s office have asked Macon investigators not to re-interview the 16-year-old in the case, citing her emotional trauma from the incident.
“We’re going to give her more time to recover,” he said.
Burns said there are several things his department would have done differently had they had charge of the case from the beginning. He noted the length of time the school system took to respond to an Open Records Act request made by The Telegraph for the campus police report. It took a week for the school system to send out the report, and even then, it was heavily redacted.
“If we get an open records report, we would have given you what we could,” Burns said. “If there was a reason why we couldn’t, we would have let you know why we needed (the extra time).”
Burns said the main police report he received from the school system didn’t have any more information than the one received by The Telegraph. Most of the information about the case has come from supplemental reports, he said. Those supplemental reports are not subject to public disclosure under the law.
“Our reports are more in-depth with that,” he said.
Staff writers Joe Kovac Jr., Phillip Ramati and Andrea Castillo contributed to this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.