Current and former leaders at Midland Christian School and Trinity School of Midland were indicted this month on state felony charges for allegedly concealing the abuse of children.
The two schools were investigated for two separate, unconnected incidents, but the schools’ supporters have united to call on the City of Midland to look into how local police approached these cases.
By Mitch Borden
Since February, Midland Christian School and Trinity School of Midland have made multiple headlines as leaders at the schools were investigated for allegedly trying to conceal three separate cases of child abuse.
Now, current and former top officials from both schools are facing felony charges after a grand jury indicted them earlier this month. If convicted, the private school officials could face two years in state jail.
Supporters of the two private schools claimed at a recent Midland City Council meeting that these investigations are a “vendetta” and that police are being allowed to “pervert and weaponize the law.” Advocates have asked city leaders to open an inquiry into the city’s police department.
Marfa Public Radio’s Travis Bubenik spoke to Permian Basin reporter Mitch Borden about these recent developments.
Seven indictments, three investigations and one lawsuit
A Midland County grand jury on Nov. 9 indicted Trinity School of Midland’s Head of School Shelby Hammer, along with Dean of Students Todd Freese, the Head of Middle School Chrystal Myers and Assistant Director of Admissions Adrienne Clifton.
Their charges for concealing abuse date back to an incident in 2019, when a student came forward and told school officials they had been sexually harrassed and abused by a classmate for months.
Midland Christian’s former Superintendent Jared Lee, former Principal Dana Ellis and current teacher Matthew Counts were indicted on Nov. 10 for allegedly failing to report a child being struck in the head with a baseball bat last November.
In a letter to supporters, Midland Christian’s Board of Trustees Chairman Jason Stockstill confirmed the incident took place at the school but described the situation as an “accident.”
Lee and his former colleagues are also suing the city and three Midland Police Department officers over claims of police misconduct. Lee and four other colleagues at Midland Christian school were arrested on similar charges in February, but those charges were dropped when a grand jury decided not to indict the leaders at the school.
Who is required to report child abuse and why it matters
The issue at the heart of the investigations at Midland Christian and Trinity is when should school officials report suspected or alleged child abuse.
In Texas, teachers and other school staff are required to tell the proper authorities, like law enforcement or child protective services, within 48 hours if they believe or suspect a child has been abused. If they do not not, they can be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.
An individual convicted of trying to conceal abuse can face two years in state jail. In all of these investigations into the two private schools, law enforcement have claimed school officials had reason to believe a child had been abused, but did not go to the proper authorities.
Concerns over police accountability
Last Tuesday, supporters of the two private schools turned out to a Midland City Council meeting to voice their concerns over the recent indictments and how local police conducted their investigation.
Multiple speakers called for an independent review of police policies and conduct. Previously, Midland’s current Mayor Patrick Payton asked locals to “let the process work itself out.”
Payton is set to step down in the new year and the city’s next mayor, Councilwoman Lori Blong, has previously said she believes police accountability is important.
“We have had missteps,” Blong told Marfa Public Radio during her fall mayoral campaign.
“We need to make corrections in our policies, we need to make corrections in our procedures,” she said. “We need to make sure that we have accountability at all levels.”
Blong also recently told the Midland Reporter-Telegram that a review of the Midland Police Department is being considered.
“My personal perspective is that I would like to do something sooner for [the] benefit of our community, but I don’t know that I speak for the whole council on that.”
If city leaders choose to look into the policies and procedures at the Midland Police Department, it’s unclear the shape that review could take.