Sheriff’s office ordered to hand over investigative files in New Hanover County teacher sex scandal

Sheriff’s office ordered to hand over investigative files in New Hanover County teacher sex scandal

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A judge has ordered the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office to hand over their investigative files involving sex crimes committed by a county teacher against his students.

The New Hanover County Board of Education sought the release of those documents in September 2019, to use to defend itself in a civil lawsuit filed against the board by victims of Michael Kelly. Kelly was a former high school science teacher who was convicted in the summer of 2019 of sex crimes against more than a dozen students dating back over two decades.

Despite the objections of the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office (NHCSO), Judge Joshua Willey ruled in November 2019 that the files were relevant to the pending litigation, and should be released. The judge gave the NHCSO six months to release those files.

When that time was up in May, the North Carolina Department of Justice asked the court for more time before those files had to be handed over. Special Prosecutor Leslie Cooley Dismukes told the court the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), which is investigating whether New Hanover County School administrators are criminally liable for failing to report suspected abuse to law enforcement, needed more time to complete their investigation before those investigative files were released.

Dismukes explained in her court filing requesting an extension that the pandemic had significantly slowed the SBI’s investigation. She said the release of investigative documents before they were finished could damage the ongoing investigation by allowing parties involved to change their testimony after seeing the contents of the investigative file, allow those involved to destroy evidence or flee, and could also taint a future jury pool in this highly publicized case.

Judge Phyllis Gorham granted the state’s request for a 90-day extension before releasing the files, giving them a new deadline of August 5, 2020. On August 10, the parties went to court for a hearing on the delayed release. Judge Gorham ordered the files to be released now that the extension has expired.

The parties involved in the civil suit, including the school system, former administrators Rick Holliday and Tim Markley, and the plaintiffs filing suit will all have access to the investigative files in the coming days, but the files will not be publicly released and are subject to a protective order.

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