November 25, 2013 / 3:35 PM / 6 years ago

Ohio school official charged with obstructing Steubenville rape case

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (Reuters) - A grand jury has indicted the superintendent of schools in Steubenville, Ohio, on charges that he obstructed an investigation into the rape of a drunk teenage girl at a party in 2012, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said on Monday.

A sheriff's vehicle sits outside of Steubenville High School after a threat that police determined was "non-viable" was received in Steubenville, Ohio, January 8, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Cohn

The grand jury also indicted an elementary school principal, an assistant wrestling coach and a former volunteer assistant coach for the Steubenville football team, DeWine said. The indictments were handed down Friday and filed on Monday, he said.

The rape case drew national attention to Steubenville, a town about 40 miles west of Pittsburgh, after a photo and video that appeared to document the assault of the 16-year-old girl were posted online. In March, two high school football players were found guilty as juveniles of assaulting the girl in August 2012.

“This was very tough work, none of it was easy,” DeWine told a news conference, adding that the grand jury’s work was done, barring any new evidence in the case.

Superintendent Michael McVey, 50, was indicted on two counts of obstructing justice and one count of evidence tampering, all felonies, and misdemeanor counts of making false statements and obstructing official business, DeWine said.

A secretary at the superintendent’s office declined to comment on the indictment and said the school board planned to meet later on Monday to discuss the matter.

Matthew Belardine, 26, who at the time was a volunteer assistant football coach, was accused of four misdemeanors: obstructing official business, misleading a public official, allowing underage drinking and contributing to the delinquency of a child, DeWine said.

Seth Fluharty, 26, an assistant wrestling coach and special education teacher, was indicted for failing to report child abuse or neglect, a misdemeanor, as was Lynnett Gorman, 40, an elementary school principal in the district, he said.

McVey and the others indicted on Friday were summoned to appear in court on December 6. If convicted on all counts, McVey could serve up to five years and 270 days in prison, Belardine could serve one year and 265 days, and Gorman and Fluharty could serve up to 30 days in jail.

After the trial of the high school football players ended in March, DeWine called for a grand jury investigation to determine whether people hindered the investigation into the rape accusations. The grand jury met on 18 separate days, calling 123 individual witnesses, DeWine said.

DeWine said the question could be raised as to why there were not more indictments brought, and noted that a grand jury has to find probable cause of specific crimes.

“It is simply not sufficient that a person’s behavior was reprehensible, disgusting, mean-spirited or just plain stupid,” DeWine said.

The grand jury in October indicted William Rhinaman on obstruction of justice, evidence tampering and perjury charges, all felonies, and obstructing official business, a misdemeanor, in its investigation on the rape case.

Rhinaman retired in November as director of technology for the Steubenville city schools. He has pleaded not guilty.

Rhinaman’s daughter was indicted on two counts of receiving stolen property and one of grand theft in charges not relating to the rape-case investigation.

DeWine said Steubenville “has been torn apart by the actions and bad decisions not of the many but rather of the few.”

The computer hacking group Anonymous had pressed for a prosecution in Steubenville, publicizing on the Internet an image it said was of the rape victim being carried by her wrists and ankles by two young men.

Anonymous also pushed for a renewed investigation into allegations that a former Missouri high school football player sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl at a party in an incident a second teen was accused of recording on a cell phone. A new prosecutor has been named to look into that case.

Reporting by Elizabeth Daley and Mary Wisniewski; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Maureen Bavdek, Bernadette Baum and David Gregorio

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